UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health


Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health


Developmental Biology and Cancer Research & Teaching Department Latest News

Latest News

Make September Gold

1 September 2021


September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  Every day in the UK, 12 children and young people will receive the devastating news that they have cancer. Of those 12, two will not survive.  Of those lucky enough to survive, many will have long-term side-effects that may significantly impact their lives forever. 

Show your support this September by wearing a gold ribbon.  Limited edition gold ribbon pin badges can be purchased from Children with Cancer UK, please click here for more details. 


UCL scientists to receive seed funding for most pressing cancer challenges

21 June 2021

Nine UCL scientists have been shortlisted to work on some of the world’s toughest cancer problems, as part of the £80 million Cancer Grand Challenges including three from DBC.

cancer institute

In October 2020, Cancer Grand Challenges, founded by Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute, dared the global research community to take on nine of cancer’s most pressing issues.

The eight research themes taken forward were: Cachexia (a disorder that causes extreme weight loss and muscle wasting, and can include loss of body fat), e-cigarettes, extrachromosomal DNA, inflammation, macromolecules, normal phenotypes, senescence (the condition or process of deterioration with age), solid tumours in children.

Almost 170 teams across 61 countries submitted bold, innovative ideas, and Cancer Grand Challenges has now announced the 11 teams selected to compete for a share of £80m.  

Each team will now receive seed funding to get their ideas off the ground and make their full proposal. Winners will receive £20m and the freedom to unite above boundaries to unleash their scientific creativity. 

UCL scientists feature in six of the 11 teams shortlisted. 

Dr Martin Pule (UCL Cancer Institute), is co-lead for Team NGTC: Next Generation T cell therapies for childhood cancers. The UCL Translational Research Office (TRO) supported application involves an international team of researchers co-led by Dr Catherine Bollard, (George Washington University Children’s National Hospital) and including from UCL, Professor Sergio Quezada (UCL Cancer Institute), Professor Karen Page (UCL Mathematics), Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens (UCL Chemical Engineering) and Dr Karin Straathof (UCL Great Ormond Institute for Child Health).

Research theme: Solid Tumours in Children

Summary: To develop effective, kinder treatments for children with solid tumours, we must explore new therapeutic approaches. The NGTC team’s vision is to bring engineered T cell therapies to the routine treatment of these children, within a decade.  

Dr Laura Donovan and Dr Karin Straathof (both UCL Great Ormond Institute for Child Health) and are co-investigators on Team The Virtual Child. The team is led by Professor Dr Stefan Pfister (German Cancer Research Centre) and Professor Richard Gilbertson (University of Cambridge)

Research theme: Solid Tumours in Children

Summary: The first ever learning and data-driven computer model of normal and cancerous nervous system development, to support biological and therapeutic discovery.

Professor Juan Pedro Martinez-Barbera (UCL Great Ormond Institute for Child Health), co-investigator, Team T-SMAC: Targeting Senescence Mechanisms to Arrest Cancer. The international team is led by Professor Scott Lowe (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, US), Professor Manuel Serrano (Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Spain) and Professor Jesus Gil (Imperial College London).

Research theme: Senescence

Summary: Improving the mechanistic understanding and detection of senescence to realise its potential in cancer treatment


UCL & GOSH researchers receive funding to improve outcomes for children and young people with cancer

18 March 2021

Researchers at University College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital receive ~£1,7m funding in new Cancer Research UK-Children with Cancer UK Innovation Awards.

The Award is a new initiative to support novel and innovative approaches to childhood cancer research. Co-funded by Cancer Research UK and Children with Cancer UK, five teams of scientists who are leaders in their field have been awarded up to £1 million each to delve into the biology of children’s and young people’s cancers, with the hope of finding new ways to prevent and treat these complex cancers.

Improving outcomes for children and young people whose ALL relapses after treatment


Prof Marc Mansour, Dr Jack Bartram, Prof Owen Williams and Dr David O'Connor

One of the studies awarded this £1m grant is the REVEALL Study (RElapse-specific therapeutic Vulnerability Evaluation in childhood & young adult ALL).  This is a joint proposal led by researchers and clinicians from University College London (Cancer Institute and Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health) and Great Ormond Street Hospital in collaboration with experts from other centres including the Francis Crick Institute and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

 Although most children with leukaemia can be cured with standard therapy, treatment can be much more difficult if the disease returns (“relapses”). To address this issue, a nationwide study will be established, recruiting all children in the UK with relapsed leukaemia.

Dr David O’Connor said:

“through the analysis of patient samples we will characterise the leukaemia in unprecedented detail, uncovering the cancer’s genetics and sensitivities to different treatments. This form of personalised medicine will guide which treatments the patients receive, giving them the best chance of survival. We believe our approach will provide direct benefit to children with otherwise untreatable leukaemia. In addition, the wealth of data will provide a key resource for other researchers working on leukaemia, deciphering key mechanisms driving resistance, identifying predictive indicators, commonly called biomarkers, for treatment selection and uncovering new targets for drug development.”

Identifying new targets to treat rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a skeletal muscle cancer, by investigating its foetal origins


Dr Karin Straathof

A second study looks at the biology of RMS, which is largely unexplored, but is thought to originate from cells in the foetus that develop incorrectly. Some of these cells persist in children with RMS when usually they wouldn’t. Dr Sam Behjati at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and Dr Karin Straathof at UCL GOS ICH/GOSH, want to understand why this happens by building a cell ‘atlas’ – a complete guide to the cells that form RMS. They hope that understanding how RMS develops will help bring to light new targets for treatment.

Dr Karin Straathof said: 

 “While families of children diagnosed with cancer often ask this question, we do not yet know how cancers like rhabdomyosarcoma develop. By building a detailed map of this cancer and comparing this with what happens during normal development we will get a better understanding of the root of rhabdomyosarcoma. And importantly these insights will provide us with clues of how to develop new treatments.”

Dr Sam Behjati Said:

“Although treatments have dramatically improved over the past few decades, children continue to suffer from rhabdomyosarcoma, with few novel treatment approaches in sight. Moreover, survivors often experience lifelong adverse effects from treatment. I hope that our research will ultimately translate into benefits for children with rhabdomyosarcoma, in particular, better treatments.”


  • CRUK -CwCUK logo's
  • Prof Marc Mansour, Dr Jack Bartram, Prof Owen Williams, Dr David O'Connor (left to right)
  • Dr Karin Straathof


Previous news items 2021

Olivia Hodson Cancer Fund
Olivia Hodson Cancer Fund Logo

January 2021 Call for Applications for Funding

Application deadline Friday 9th April 2021.  Please click the link below for a word version of the 2021 application form.

The Olivia Hodson Cancer Fund invites applications for funding of projects starting after July 2021. Project applications up to a maximum of £20,000 will be considered, however we do encourage pump-priming applications for smaller amounts of approximately £1,000 - £5,000.

Applications should be emailed to Anne Anton Friday 9th April 2021. Applications should be fully costed and registered with R&D. Please see the attachment for further information about the fund and the application form.

Your recommended peer reviewers will be contacted shortly after the deadline. It may speed up your application to let them know in advance that we will be getting in touch. The committee are unable to approve applications without a peer review.

The Committee will meet to review applications shortly after the deadline of 9th April 2021 and we will shortlist applications to be sent for review. All applicants will be notified about the shortlisting. Following the external review of shortlisted applications, the committee will meet to assess the peer reviews in mid June – date to be confirmed. Applicants may be required to attend an allocated slot and present (10mins presentation and 5mins for Q&A).

OHCF Committee

Previous news items 2020

Lab-grown mini-organs could offer treatment hope for children with intestinal failure


Photograph of Paolo De Coppi

7 September 2020

Pioneering scientists at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH) and the Francis Crick Institute have grown human intestinal grafts using stem cells from patient tissue that could one day lead to personalised transplants for children with intestinal failure, according to a study published in Nature Magazine

Many colleagues from the Developmental Biology and Cancer Research and Teaching Deaprtment have been involved in this highly promising study, and full details may be found at this link


Dr Erwin Pauws appointed to be a new UCL MSc Programme Director

Dr Erwin

Dr Erwin Pauws

Pauws of the developmental BIOLOGY of birth defects section (craniofacial malformation research group) to co-lead a UCL MSc Programme

Making the announcement on 18th June 2020 regarding Dr Pauws new role, Prof. Ros Smyth, Director and Professor of Child Health, Great Ormond Street UCL Institute of Child Health stated:

I am delighted to announce the appointment of two new Programme Directors for the MSc in Paediatrics and Child Health and the MSc in Personalised Medicine and Novel Therapies. Dr Erwin Pauws and Dr Haiyan Zhou respectively will be taking on these important roles as co-leads alongside the existing Directors, Professor Helen Bedford and Dr Mark Kristiansen. These are important leadership roles which will be crucial to our success in education over the upcoming years and in particular with our new online intake commencing in the new academic year. Congratulations to both Haiyan and Erwin who have both shown great enthusiasm for the opportunities offered by the positions and who I believe will make many positive contributions to GOS ICH in these roles.

The Developmental Biology and Cancer Research and Teaching Department congratulates Dr Pauws on his well deserved appointment.


Professor Paolo De Coppi elected to the prestigious Academy of Medical Sciences Fellowship


Photograph of Paolo De Coppi

The Academy of Medical Sciences announced on 13th May 2020 they had elected 50 of the UK’s most prominent biomedical and health scientists to their Fellowship, including the internationally renowned Professor Paolo De Coppi, Head of the Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine Section at UCL Institute of Child Health, Developmental Biology and Cancer.

Developmental Biology and Cancer Research and Teaching Department warmly congratulates Prof. De Coppi on this most laudable achievement.

Further details may be found at the Academy's press release, at the following web address https://acmedsci.ac.uk/more/news/50-leading-biomedical-and-health-scientists-elected-to-the-prestigious-academy-fellowship


GOSH Charity and Sparks award over £1 million for child health research at the Institute

GOSH Charity and Sparks, the children’s medical research charity, have announced funding for five projects at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH), as part of the UK’s largest funding scheme dedicated to child health research.


Image of Dr Jane Sowden

Projects include pioneering research to save the hearing of children who are born without sight, supporting the UK arm of a global clinical trial to test whether the breast cancer drug tamoxifen could help children with a rare muscle disorder, and creating an implantable device that supports liver function and could hold the key to reducing toxic chemical levels in the blood and avoiding the need for liver transplant.

This year, the charities’ annual funding scheme will invest £2.3 million in 11 pioneering child health projects around the UK. After an open call for applications in 2019, each proposal was rigorously assessed by expert committees and researchers around the globe. Those selected, including the five projects at the ICH, were rated extremely highly and recognised as having the potential to significantly impact child health.

Projects funded at the ICH:

Professor Nicholas Greene will test a new compound derived from cinnamon that could help lower toxic levels of ammonia and glycine in children with the rare metabolic diseases non-ketotic hyperglycinemia and Urea Cycle Disorders. Dr Giovanni Baranello’s project will support the UK arm of a global trial understanding if the breast cancer drug tamoxifen could help children with the muscle disorder X-linked myotubular myopathy. Professor Jane Sowden (pictured above) will investigate whether replacing the faulty gene that causes deafness in Norrie Disease could save the hearing of boys with the condition, who are born blind. This is a continuation of the pioneering work done by Professor Maria Bitner-Glindzicz, who sadly passed away in 2018. Professor Paul Gissen aims to tackle all symptoms of a complex multi-organ disorder, Arthrogryposis Renal Dysfunction and Cholestasis Syndrome (ARC), with two types of gene therapy at once. The condition affects the liver, kidneys and bone marrow cells. Most patients die in early childhood so new treatments are desperately needed. Dr Hassan Rashidi hopes to develop an implantable and removable ‘liver patch’ to provide liver support to patients with the metabolic condition non-ketotic hyperglycinemia, helping them reduce the toxic levels of glycine without the need for liver transplant.


Research Highlights

Paper of the month

The paper of the month this month goes to a group from Developmental Biology and Cancer. Both joint first authors were undergraduates when they completed the work reported in this paper in Dr Gabriel Galea's lab. Nina Short, who was awarded a Child Health Research Summer Internship, and Max Butler was awarded a Wellcome Biomedical Vacation Studentship.  The last author in the paper is Gabriel Galea and the other authors are also from this Institute. 
The study focusses on the role of the enzyme Rho-associated protein kinase (ROCK) enclosing the posterior neuropore (PNP) in the neural tube.  The main finding from the study is that ROCK dependent apical constriction compensates for the PNP widening effects of the inter-kinetic nuclear migration to enable progression of closure of the neural tube. 

 There is also a first person interview with Max and Nina published in the same edition of the journal.  A very well done to students and the rest of the research team!

Link to the paper in the Company of Biologists 


Research at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health

Professor Nick Greene's academic profile

Dr Giovanni Baranello's academic profile

Professor Jane Sowden' s academic profile

Professor Paul Gissen's academic profile

Dr Hassan Rashidi's academic profile

GOSH Charity Press Release


UCL-PKU Strategic Partner Funds: Prof. Nick Greene

UCL professors Nick Greene and Andrew Copp have teamed up with colleagues at Peking University (PKU) to help prevent one of world’s most common birth defects.


Image of Nick Greene and Andy Copp and colleagues from Peking University

*Update 9/3/2020: Professor Nick Greene received around £300,000 from the Joint Global Health Trials scheme, which is funded by the Department for International Development, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and Wellcome Trust. Prof Greene is the principal investigator with co-applicants from UCL GOS Institute of Child Health, UCL Comprehensive Clinical Trials Unit and Peking University. The team also obtained funding from Bo Hjelt Foundation, which will go towards supporting a two-year development trial in Shanxi Province, China as a precursor to a larger study. The development trial is intended to start on 1 April 2020.

UCL has teamed up with Peking University (PKU) in a bid to prevent tens of thousands of babies suffering from spina bifida, one of the world’s most common birth defects.

Researchers at UCL’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and Comprehensive Clinical Trials Unit are proposing a £5m study of up to 9,000 women in China to confirm initial findings that a vitamin common in fruit, vegetables, meat and nuts could prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida.

“If successful, it’s a global treatment that could be rolled out and prevent thousands of pregnancies being affected by spina bifida,” said Professor Nick Greene, who is leading the UCL team.


Image of ICH Building

Worldwide, it is estimated that around one in every 1,000 pregnancies are affected by NTDs, with more than 260,000 babies born every year with spina bifida, a severely disabling malformation of the spinal cord.

Women are advised to take supplemental folic acid before and during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of an affected pregnancy. A number of countries, including the USA, Canada and Australia, have also introduced mandatory fortification of food with folic acid and seen a reduction in NTD prevalence.

Nevertheless, some babies still develop spina bifida despite folic acid supplementation or fortification. For example, there are still between 700 and 900 pregnancies affected by neural tube defects each year in the UK.

Research by the UCL team focussed on identifying possible ways to prevent ‘folic acid resistant’ spina bifida. Leading on from their laboratory-based studies on inositol (vitamin B8), they carried out a pilot clinical trial in the UK, among women who had previously experienced one or more affected pregnancies and were therefore at high risk of recurrence. In their next pregnancy, women were randomly given either folic acid and a placebo or folic acid and inositol.

None of the babies born to women who took inositol had spina bifida, but it did occur in some pregnancies where only folic acid was taken. Published in 2016, the findings of this first randomised trial of inositol for prevention of spina bifida indicated the need for a large-scale ‘fully powered’ clinical trial.


None of the babies born to women who took inositol had spina bifida, but it did occur in some pregnancies where only folic acid was taken. Published in 2016, the findings of this first randomised trial of inositol for prevention of spina bifida indicated the need for a large-scale ‘fully powered’ clinical trial.

Now Professor Greene and his colleagues hope, with their collaborators at PKU, to use China’s unparalleled database of information on birth defect occurrence to mount a large-scale study to establish whether inositol will work as an effective global treatment to prevent spina bifida, alongside folic acid.

The prevalence of spina bifida in Northern China, where the study will be carried out, is among the highest in the world.

Because of China’s systematic collection of data, the team will be able to find the necessary 9,000 women who have previously suffered a spina bifida pregnancy and are planning another pregnancy so that they can be given inositol.

“Together with its large population, China has a very comprehensive coverage of pregnancy outcomes, which means it is one of the few places that this trial would be possible,” said Professor Greene.

A bid to fund the clinical trial is currently being considered.*