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Meet the researcher: Dr Owen Williams

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September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Leukaemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month. With Action funding, Dr Owen Williams is working to help children suffering from an aggressive cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.


Back row: Dr Jasper de Boer. Middle row (left to right): Dr Clemence Virely, Dr Luca Gasparoli.
Front row (left to right): Dr Owen Williams, Ms Sandra Cantilena, Dr Katherine Clesham


What inspired you to investigate this particular area?

My PhD and early scientific career was focussed on understanding how particular blood cells develop and contribute to an effective immune system. Over time, I became interested in what happens when blood cell development goes wrong. This can result in a failure of the immune system and poor defence against infection. However, it can also lead to leukaemia, blood cell cancer. I realised that the techniques I had been developing could be applied to leukaemia research, to understand more about how this disease occurs and find new ways in which to treat it. This is when I joined the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (then the UCL Institute of Child Health), started my own lab and initiated a number of projects on childhood leukaemia.

What does Action funding for this study mean to you?

I am very grateful that Action Medical Research funded this project, along with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. This will enable us to dissect in detail the molecular mechanisms underlying development of one of the most common forms of leukaemia in children. We envisage that this project will offer new therapeutic opportunities for this disease, as well as giving us a critical insight into how a common cancer gene functions.

What does a typical day look like for you … or is every day different?

My time is divided between my own experiments, supervision of the post-docs and students in my lab, writing grant proposals and papers, and teaching. Every day is different, depending on what is most urgent.

Can you tell us a bit about your team?

My team is made up of two post-doc scientists, Dr Luca Gasparoli and Dr Clemence Virely, a PhD student, Elena Armenteros-Monterroso and a clinical fellow, Dr Katherine Clesham. We all work on different projects, but with the common theme of investigating the molecular action of cancer genes in leukaemia. We also collaborate closely with my scientific and clinical colleagues in the Institute, in particular Dr Jasper de Boer and his PhD student, Sandra Cantilena, and with colleagues in the UCL Cancer Institute.

Who’s your research hero, and why?

My hero is Charles Darwin. His work shaped the way we think about biology and is applicable to so many fields in medical research, especially cancer research.

As a charity, Action began in 1952 with our founder’s quest to find a cure for polio. What led you to a career in medical research?

At first this was scientific curiosity, but by the time I joined the Institute, I had developed an interest in using my research to improve treatment options for children suffering from leukaemia, through greater understanding of how this disease develops and discovering new drug susceptibilities.

Action’s loyal and lovable mascot Paddington Bear™ is very fond of marmalade sandwiches. What’s your favourite snack?

Bananada  – dried banana sweet.

Tell us something that will surprise us!

Over the last 10 years, my lab has had students and scientists representing 11 different nationalities. Apart from English, science is our common language.




  • You can find out more about the study led by Dr Williams here
  • If you would like to support our work funding research to help children with cancer, donations are warmly welcomed.




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