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Overview

Professor Tony Whetton is currently the Director of the Stoller Biomarker Discovery Centre and the Manchester Precision Medicine Institute at the University of Manchester. He is past Director of the Leukaemia Research Fund Cellular Development Unit and is now Director of the Leukaemia Research Fund Mass Spectrometry Unit based at the Wolfson Molecular Imaging Centre, Christie Hospital. He obtained a PhD in signal transduction research and biophysical chemistry. This was followed by one year of research into membrane structure using electron spin resonance techniques. He then moved into a completely different field of experimental haematology, with two years postdoctoral research in the Experimental Haematology section of the Paterson Institute. He left this position to take up a lectureship at UMIST in 1984 where he became the Professor of Cell Biology in 1995 and Head of Department in 2001. He joined the School of Medicine at the University of Manchester in 2003 as Professor of Cancer Cell Biology, based at the Christie Hospital. Here he has established a state of the art biological mass spectrometry facility for stem cell and leukaemia research. He is currently systematically defining the downstream proteomic and phosphoproteomic effects of the protein tyrosine kinases associated with myeloproliferative disorders and myeloid leukaemias to discover common mechanisms for leukaemic transformation. This research has recently expanded and developed to include a clinical proteomics research capability, where the objective is to discover new biomarkers associated with the cancers. He is also Adjunct Professor in the Department of Gene and Cell Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, USA where he works with the Black Family Stem Cell Institute, using proteomics to define embryonic stem cell differentiation control.

Biography

Tony Whetton obtained his first degree from the University of Manchester and a PhD from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). Since this training in biochemistry he has pursued research in haematology and stem cell biology. This was firstly at Christie Hospital, then UMIST, where he was Professor of Cell Biology, and since 2003 at the Christie Hospital, University of Manchester. He has been the Director of the Leukaemia Research Fund Cellular Development Unit since its inception in 1990 and the Co-Director of the Leukaemia Research Fund (LRF) Proteomics Facility since 1999. He leads a laboratory of about 20 people engaged in both stem cell research and the new exciting area of proteomics research.

The current objective of this work is to combine the incisive techniques of proteomics to understand biological processes in normal and leukaemic stem cells. He has been a consultant to many international pharmaceutical and proteomics companies and has extensive experience advising national and international science funding bodies. He has also served as external examiner to higher education institutes overseas as well as in the UK. 

Research interests

New systems biology approaches will transform biomedical research. One key strand of this new approach is proteomics/mass spectrometry. I have worked effectively with clinical colleagues in the field of haematology for many years. However, my interactions now encompass research into many other malignancies and, for example, diseases of pregnancy and the lungs, due to the development of an “outstanding” (metrics: LLR international panel who site visited in 2013) mass spectrometry/proteomics facility. I advise internationally leading clinician scientists/bioscientists on the use of mass spectrometry and proteomics in their research. This is essential; too often these complex systems biology approaches lead to failure because of poor experimental design and/or lack of awareness of the technique’s limitations. The development of new biomarkers and surrogate endpoint markers is a key requirement for clinical trials and closing the translational gap in medicine. The establishment of a platform for biomarker discovery and validation from biological fluids (more generally available than biopsy material) has been a growing theme of my research.

More specifically my major research area is concerned with the development of primitive hematopoietic cells into mature myeloid cells and how this process is affected by leukaemia-causing oncogenes. In the past few years I have used a systems biology approach to address this issue. As many leukaemogenic oncogenes are engaged in protein post-translational modification, such as phosphorylation or induction of ubiquitination, I developed a proteomics/mass spectrometry laboratory. This set of techniques can be applied to any biomedical or biological research project. Thus my interest in differentiation and development means I have obtained funding for systems biology analyses of embryonic stem cells. My current research interest can be summarised as: 

  • Development of new mass spectrometry techniques for large scale relative quantification of proteins, phosphorylation, ubiquitination and acetylation sites.
  • Systematic application of mass spectrometry and proteomics to define and compare normal and malignant hematopoietic stem cells, identifying common targets in the leukaemias and myeloproliferative disorders.
  • Follow up on target proteins affected by leukaemogenic tyrosine kinases, e.g. phosphorylation/activation of CD45
  • Definition of embryonic stem cell differentiation mechanisms using proteomics
  • Development of clinical proteomics for clinical trials

The laboratory therefore uniquely combines high end mass spectrometry and cell biology. We provide high end mass spectrometry to a variety of projects via collaboration.

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Member of editorial boards for:

  • Molecular and Cellular Proteomics,
  • Stem Cell Research
  • Cell Communication and Signalling 
  • American Journal of Pathology.
  • Scientific Advisory Panel Yorkshire Cancer Research 2006-2010.

I am a member of:

  • British Society for Haematology
  • European Haematology Association
  • British Society for Cell Biology
  • British Society for Proteome Research

I am a communicating member of:

  • h-Bioscience Journal

Qualifications

1978- BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry.

1981- PhD in Biochemistry.

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

Areas of expertise

  • RZ Other systems of medicine

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures

Keywords

  • haematology
  • leukaemia
  • proteomics
  • precision medicine

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