Events calendar

Converging on cancer seminar series – engineering, physical sciences and multidisciplinary approaches to advance cancer research (Lee and Zierhut)

20 Jan 2022, 15:00 PM

Please join us for a live webinar on the 20th January 15.00–16.00 at which Professor Axel Behrens (Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre Scientific Director) is pleased to host Dr Chiu Fan Lee and Dr Christian Zierhut.

In this series of webinars brought to you by the Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre at Imperial College London and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, researchers across the two organisations will discuss key challenges facing cancer research and opportunities for new convergence science approaches to address these. Join us to consider how novel approaches and technologies could shed light on unresolved problems in cancer biology, to innovate new ways to address challenges in cancer and bring pioneering treatments to cancer patients faster.

Dr Chiu Fan Lee – Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London


“Dynamic control of intracellular organisation through phase separation”


Biological cells are known to exploit phase separation to organise their interior contents into protein-RNA granules called condensates. In this talk, I will first introduce the basic physics of phase separation – a ubiquitous physical phenomenon that is manifested by, e.g., the everyday occurrence of cloud and fog. I will then describe how the formation, localisation, and dissolution of a certain type of condensates can be regulated by ATP-driven chemical reactions [1,2], and by their interactions with other types of condensates [3]. Lastly, I will argue how the advent of intracellular condensation points to the synergistic relation between molecular biology of the cell and soft matter physics.


[1] Wurtz J D and Lee C F 2018 Chemical-Reaction-Controlled Phase Separated Drops: Formation, Size Selection, and Coarsening Phys. Rev. Lett. 120 078102

[2] Wurtz J D and Lee C F 2018 Stress granule formation via ATP depletion-triggered phase separation New J. Phys. 20 045008

[3] Folkmann A W, Putnam A, Lee C F and Seydoux G 2021 Regulation of biomolecular condensates by interfacial protein clusters Science 373 1218–24




Dr Christian Zierhut – Cancer Biology Division, The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust


“Innate immune self-DNA sensing and cell fate”


Pattern recognition receptors are an important part of the innate immune system, and allow cells to respond to general pathogen components. One such general pathogen component is the genetic material of bacteria and many viruses, DNA, which triggers innate immune signalling following recognition by cGAS. This system requires cGAS to be unresponsive to self-DNA, and in this lecture, I will describe the mechanism underlying self-discrimination, as well as some of the consequences of its breakdown during genotoxic stress, which allows cGAS to control cell fate and tumourigenesis.


Zierhut…Funabiki, Nucleosomal regulation of chromatin composition and nuclear assembly revealed by histone depletion. Nat Struct Mol Biol, 21 (2014), 617-625.

Zierhut…Funabiki, The Cytoplasmic DNA Sensor cGAS Promotes Mitotic Cell Death. Cell, 178 (2019), 302-305.

Kujirai*, Zierhut*…Kurumizaka, Structural basis for the inhibition of cGAS by nucleosomes. Science, 370 (2020), 455-458. *Equal contribution 



About the speakers:


Dr Chiu Fan Lee

Dr Lee obtained a Joint Honours Degree in Mathematics and Physics from McGill University in 2000, a Master of Advanced Study degree in Mathematics from the University of Cambridge in 2001, and a DPhil in quantum physics from the University of Oxford in 2005. After his DPhil, he stayed in Oxford as a research fellow and gradually switched his research focus to biological physics. He then worked in the Biological Physics Division at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden before taking up a lectureship in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London in 2012. He is currently Senior Lecturer and co-Director of the Imperial Network of Excellence in Physics of Life.


Dr Christian Zierhut

Dr Zierhut leads the Genome Stability and Innate Immunity lab at ICR. His lab studies how pathogen responses are rewired in the context of DNA damage to control fates of cancer and non-cancer cells within the tumour microenvironment. He obtained his PhD from the CRUK London Research Institute, where he trained with John Diffley working on DNA repair and replication, and subsequently did postdoctoral work on chromatin and innate immunity with Hironori Funabiki at Rockefeller University. Dr Zierhut joined the Cancer Biology Division at the ICR in 2020.





To receive information about how to access this event please email


Please note: This webinar is exclusively available only to colleagues across the Institute of Cancer Research, Imperial College London, the Royal Marsden Hospital and Imperial College Healthcare.


Image Credits: Dr Christian Zierhut