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Adrian Harris, BscHons, MBChB, MA DPhil, FRCP, FMedSci

Professor of Medical Oncology,
University of Oxford
Director, Cancer Research UK Medical Oncology Unit
Oxford, United Kingdom

Current Research

Goal: To identify strategies to prevent tumor growth.

Impact: As tumors grow, their need for nutrients requires new blood vessel formation—a process called angiogenesis. Dr. Harris is investigating the signaling pathways that regulate blood vessel growth in breast cancer. His results will inform the development of breast cancer treatments that block the blood supply to tumors.

What’s next: He plans to use a new technology that will help identify pathways that regulate blood vessels in breast cancer, which could inform the development of new targeted treatments for the disease.

To continue growing, breast cancer tumors must develop their own blood supply, and they do so by forming new blood vessels from ones that already exist. Dr. Harris is studying ways to prevent this process from occurring, which would starve tumors of the oxygen and nutrients they require. His work may reveal new strategies for preventing the growth of aggressive breast cancers.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Determining the relationship between breast cancer cells, pre-existing vessels and the immune environment to identify strategies to prevent tumor growth.

Impact:  Dr. Harris has studied how blood vessels grow in breast cancer—a process called angiogenesis—and why anti-angiogenesis drugs that work in other types of cancer do not work in breast cancer. He has discovered that this is due to pre-existing vessels being co-opted by the tumor cells, reducing the need for new new vessel development. It is critical to understand this process to develop strategies for blocking it and depriving the tumor cells of nutrients and oxygen. 

Current investigation: Dr. Harris’ team is studying the mechanisms of drug resistance that are regulated by tumor angiogenesis and hypoxic (low oxygen) metabolism—a common adaptation of tumor cells to survive on very low amounts of oxygen.

What he’s learned so far: Dr. Harris and his team have learned that there is an intimate relationship between the blood vessels, low oxygen, and the immune response, which can affect patient response to immunotherapy. Moreover, this relationship can potentially be exploited to decrease resistance and improve patient response to immunotherapy, or to develop new treatment strategies. 

What’s next: Dr. Harris and his colleagues will examine how individual cells in a tumor adapt to changes in oxygen supply. They are particularly interested in triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease. They will use state-of-the-art technologies to identify the genes that are important for survival of breast cancer cells under oxygen deprivation. These studies will increase our understanding of treatment resistance and lead to the discovery of new targets for therapy or novel drug combinations.

Biography

Adrian L. Harris, MD, DPhil is Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Cancer Research UK Medical Oncology Unit. He is a Consultant Medical Oncologist at the National Health Service, Oxford Radcliffe Hospital Trust, a NIHR Comprehensive Biomedical Research Center designated by Cancer Research as one of three Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

Professor Harris's research is on tumor angiogenesis, hypoxia and the metabolic response to hypoxia as key targets for anti-cancer therapy. He  is interested in understanding the basic biology and science of disease, how this could be applied in development of new treatments and selecting the right patients for the right therapies.

He received his Honors bachelor's degree in Medicine and Surgery in 1973 at Liverpool University, but undertook an intercalated Biochemistry degree (first class honors) in 1969. He worked at Oxford University from 1975-1978, where he conducted research on mechanisms of resistance to anti-cancer drugs. He then took up a lectureship at the Royal Marsden Hospital where he developed an interest in the endocrine therapy of breast cancer with Professor Ian Smith, and helped develop early aromatase inhibitors.

In 1981 he was appointed Professor of Clinical Oncology at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and in 1988 he was invited to Oxford to take up the foundation chair in Medical Oncology and lead the CRUK Molecular Oncology Laboratories at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, one of the leading basic science institutes in the United Kingdom. 

Grid Reasercher Headshot - Harris Adrian

BCRF Investigator Since

2008

Donor Recognition

The Estée Lauder Companies’ UK & Ireland Award

Area(s) of Focus