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Personal profile


Professor of Breast Biology

Director of the Manchester Breast Centre, comprising 40 basic, translational and clinician scientists active in breast cancer research:


Founder Member and Treasurer, European Network for Breast Development and Cancer (ENBDC):


Founder Member, EurOPDX Consortium:


Editorial Board: Breast Cancer Research and Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia

Latest Publications:

Li SY, Hammarlund JA, Wu G, Lian JW, Howell SJ, Clarke RB, Adamson A, Gonçalves CF, Hogenesch JB, Anafi RC, Meng QJ (2024) Subtype-specific circadian clock dysregulation modulates breast cancer biology invasiveness and prognosis. PNAS, 121(7): e2311854121.

Meattini I, Becherini C, Caini S, Coles CE, Cortes J, Curigliano G, de Azambuja E, Isacke CM, Harbeck N, Kaidar-Person O, Marangoni E, Offersen BV, Rugo HS, Salvestrini V, Visani L, Morandi A, Lambertini M, Poortmans P, Livi L; Consensus Panellist Group. (Clarke RB) (2024) ESTRO Guidelines Consensus Recommendations on the integration of radiation therapy with targeted treatments for breast cancer. Lancet Oncol. 25(2):e73-e83.

Chen F, Gurler SB, Novo D, Selli C, Alferez D, Eroglu S, Pavlou K, Zhang J, Sims AH, Humphreys N, Adamson A, Campbell A, Sansom OJ, Tournier C, Clarke RB, Brennan K, Streuli C and Ucar A (2023) RAC1B function is essential for breast cancer stem cell maintenance and chemoresistance of breast tumor cells, Oncogene, 42(9):679-692. 

Publications on Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?hl=en&user=h_gpwEwAAAAJ


Rob is Professor of Breast Biology and Director of the Manchester Breast Centre, based at the Oglesby Cancer Research Building.  Undergraduate BSc studies were in Biology at the University of Sussex and Université Grenoble Alpes.  Following two and half years as a Research Assistant with Chris Potten at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, Rob studied the control of proliferation in the normal and neoplastic human mammary gland for his PhD at The University of Manchester (1995).  Post-doctoral training was with Dr Liz Anderson in the Clinical Research Department of The Christie, Manchester, and in 2001, Rob returned to The University of Manchester as a Cancer Research Campaign Research Fellow in the Cancer Biology. Rob was appointed as a lecturer and Breast Cancer Campaign Research Fellow from 2006-2011, a Senior Lecturer from 2009 and a Reader in Breast Biology from 2014-2018.

Research interests

The goal of our research is to understand the hierarchical relationship between cells in breast epithelium in order to gain an insight into the processes that underlie cancer initiation in this tissue. The primary aim, therefore, is to characterise and to understand the regulation of mammary epithelial stem cells, particularly luminal progenitors, since these are likely to be the targets of cancer-initiating events, and may be the underlying tumourigenic cells in breast cancers. We also wish to understand how steroid hormones such as oestrogen regulate this cellular hierarchy since both normal and tumour development is hormone dependent.

Development of the mammary gland involves the formation of collecting ducts and lobules, both of which are bilayered epithelia made up of contractile myo-epithelial and milk-producing luminal cells. One current interest is which of the Notch, Wnt, TGFbeta, EGF pathways and other relevant (eg. cytokines, Prl, GH and ovarian hormones) signalling pathways regulate stem cell self-renewal. We are also exploiting single cell gene expression analyses, functional genomics and proteomics to identify novel pathways that participate in stem cell regulation.

Identification of stem cell self-renewal pathways will be important for future cancer prevention and therapy. An established concept in leukemia as well as in neural and epithelial cancers, including breast cancer, is that only a minority of cells, i.e. the “cancer stem cells”, have the capacity to initiate tumours. Characterising the cancer stem cell and understanding the molecular basis for dysregulated self-renewal is crucial for identification of a) targets for effective therapeutic intervention, and b) disseminated cells in micrometastases which can initiate tumours.

A second theme in the lab is breast cancer prevention. We aim to investigate basic breast biology, identify early changes that occur in normal tissues and perform preclinical studies that will provide the rationale for novel prevention trials. 

Overall, our investigations will lead to an increased understanding of the biology of the normal and malignant human breast which, in turn, will lead to the development of new strategies or new targets for prevention of primary and secondary breast cancer.



  • Cancer Stem Cells Lecturer for final year BSc Biology and MSc Oncology students.
  • Tutor and Academic Advisor for Biomedical Sciences with French BSc students.
  • Project supervisor for Final Year BSc Biology Students.
  • Proposal development and project supervisor for third and fourth year MSci Students.

My group

Lab staff

  • Bruno Simões, PhD - NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre-funded Research Fellow
  • Hannah Harrison, PhD - NC3Rs and Breast Cancer Now-funded Research Fellow
  • Mia Nuckhir, MSc - MRC-funded PhD Student (co-supervised with Ciara O'Brien and Hannah Harrison)
  • Casey Broadbent, MSc - MRC iCASE-funded PhD Student (co-supervised with Sacha Howell and Bruno Simoes)
  • Hadiyat Ogunlayi, MSc - CRUK-funded MB-PhD Student (co-supervised with Cliona Kirwan)
  • David Withey - CRUK-funded MB-PhD Student (co-supervised with Ciara O'Brien and Hannah Harrison)
  • Sara Cabral, MSci - EPSRC-funded Advanced Biomaterials CDT PhD Student
  • Ryan Hilton, MSci Student

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Member of the Medical Research Council Clinical Training and Career Development Panel, 2022-2024.

Member of the Swiss National Science Foundation, Division Biology and Medicine Panel, 2022-2024.


BSc (Hons): Biology with European Studies (University of Sussex and Université Grenoble Alpes)

PhD: Molecular Oncology (University of Manchester)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Cancer
  • Manchester Cancer Research Centre


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