Events calendar

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

19 May 2022, 15:00 PM

Please join us for a live webinar on the 19th May 15.00–16.00 at which Professor Axel Behrens (Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre Scientific Director) is pleased to host Prof Chris Bakal and Prof Chris Phillips.

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.


Hosted by the Convergence Science Centre's Scientific Director Professor Axel Behrens, the series aims to support the Centre's mission to facilitate collaboration between traditionally separate and distinct disciplines.


Please join us on Thursday 19th March, from 15.00-16.00, for a talk from:


Prof Chris Bakal – Division of Cancer Biology, The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust


“The shape of you. How cell shape influences health and disease”


Cells change their shape as they explore their environment. To feel, poke, and count. But how does a cell interpret these shape changes to decide its current and future behaviour? These decision making processes are essential for development and homeostasis in organisms ranging from bacteria to man. Often they are dysregulated in diseases such as cancer. But due to the complexity of the systems that link shape and cellular decision making, it has been difficult to describe them from first principles. To study the role of cell shape in regulating cell behaviour, we have pioneered artificial intelligence based technologies to classify single cell phenotypes from 2D and 3D images. We deploy these methods on both genetic screens and natural experiments, and integrate image-based data with orthogonal 'omics datasets. Based on our work, we propose cell shape directs the organization of cytoskeletal and adhesive structure that establish the spatiotemporal activation of local signalling networks. The dynamics of these networks dictate cell fates. We now aim to embed these data into informed and predictive models. These models will provide mechanistic insight into the interplay between shape, signalling, and fate. We then will test if these models are right towards opening therapeutic avenues.






Prof Chris Phillips – Department of Physics, Imperial College London


“Nanoscale Chemical Imaging of Intracellular Ultrastructure”


Optical microscopies have a spatial resolution that is fundamentally limited by the physics of light to ~250nm.  Beyond that, almost all we know about the internal structure of cells comes from electron microscopy (EM). EM gives morphological information down to the nanoscale, but it relies on artificial contrast agents, usually heavy metals, and typically sample preparation takes weeks, and is simply too slow for any clinical applications. Although the new so-called superresolution (SR) fluorescence techniques can break the optical limit, they rely on extremely specialised labelling methods that restrict their applicability. Very recently we have discovered a way to harness infrared light-based scanning probe techniques ( s-SNOM) that were initially developed by physicists to look at micro chips, for use with biological specimens. This talk will show how these probe-based techniques can be adapted for biomedical imaging for the first time, and how they can deliver nanoscale chemical maps that promise to revolutionise our knowledge of the intracellular machinery, and help us develop a new approach to drug discovery. 



About the speakers:


Prof Chris Bakal


Chris Bakal is the Professor of Cancer Morphodynamics at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, UK, where he leads the Dynamical Cell Systems Laboratory. 


Chris was born in Calgary, Canada. He received his BSc in Biochemistry from the University of British Columbia under the supervision of Dr Julian Davies FRS - a pioneer in the field of antibiotic resistance. He obtained his PhD in Medical Biophysics from the University of Toronto in the lab of Robert Rottapel, and was mentored by Tony Pawson who sparked his interest in signal transduction. Chris’ postdoctoral work was performed in Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School with the group of Norbert Perrimon, and in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with Bonnie Berger. In 2007, Chris was named as one of the most promising postdoctoral fellows or junior faculty members at Harvard Medical School by the Dorsett L. Spurgeon award.  


After being awarded a Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellowship, Chris established his laboratory at the Institute of Cancer Research in London in 2009. In 2015 he was awarded the prestigious Cancer Research UK Future Leaders Prize. 



Prof Chris Phillips


Chris Phillips got his Ph.D. working with picosecond lasers, studying ultra-fast photoemission from semiconductors. After a spell travelling, and working for the BBC, he took a lectureship at Imperial in 1985, where, apart from the odd year in California, he has stayed. His research focuses on optical spectroscopy and semiconductor opto-electronics, with a recent move towards biomedical applications.


He was appointed to a full professorship in 2000 and was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 2006, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2018 and has published > 300 papers, patents, and book chapters. He has worked mostly with nanostructured semiconductors, and has used them as “Artificial atoms”, as means of duplicating the intriguing quantum optical effects, such as EIT and slow light that, were pioneered by the atom spectroscopists. Lately he has been exploring artificial “Quantum Metamaterials” that manipulate light in new ways, e.g., to make lenses with diffraction beating imaging performance.


He also has a team researching into new imaging technologies for cancer diagnosis, and recently he founded Digistain Ltd to commercialise these. He has also perfected a new way of imaging biological tissue that can reveal intracellular “ultrastructure” in a way that promises to significantly augment, or even replace, electron microscopy right across the biosciences.





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 Credit: Prof Chris Phillips