skip to content

School of the Biological Sciences

hexagon shaped photos

A core aim of the Research Themes is to “promote collaboration and interaction across traditional departmental boundaries”, and through feedback from Group Leaders across the School we are now identifying areas of synergy that will enhance research and drive innovation.  Referred to as ‘Grand Challenges’, these focussed research topics are scientifically ambitious, naturally span disciplines, and can be developed towards collaborative grant proposals and philanthropic engagement.

A summary of the current and emerging Grand Challenges across the Research Themes are highlighted below. We welcome opportunities to collaborate with industry partners, policy makers and academics. If you are interested in working with us, please contact Dr Abi Herrmann, Research Strategy Facilitator.

Complex tissue regeneration across scales and systems


Academic Leads: Ben Steventon and Mekayla Storer

Embryos and plants show us that multi-tissue regeneration is possible, however complex animals and humans have mostly lost this capability. Researchers in Cambridge are working together to learn lessons across tissues, systems and scales to make human limb and organ regeneration possible.

Lead Research Theme: Reproduction, Development and Lifelong Health




Molecular Biology for Climate Solutions


Academic Leads: Beverley Glover and Kiran Patil

Molecular biology allows scientists to study biological phenomenon at the level of atoms, molecules and cells. Commonly used in health and disease research, scientists in Cambridge are harnessing modern biological techniques to transform our understanding of climate change and accelerate much needed solutions in this area.

Lead Research Theme: Organisms, Evolution and Ecology




Seeing infection through a new lens


Academic Leads: Colin Crump and Stephen Graham

The ability to visualise host-pathogen interactions across multiple scales, from individual molecules to whole organisms, unlocks unprecedented opportunities for breakthroughs in our basic understanding of infectious disease biology. However, working with the live human or animal pathogens also brings unique challenges. By sharing experiences, skills and resources, researchers in Cambridge are redefining what is possible in infections disease imaging and illuminating novel biological processes that can be targeted for the development of next-generation therapies.

Lead Research Theme: Infection and Immunity



Mental health and illness across scales, species, and society


Academic Leads: Rebecca Lawson and Amy Milton

Mental health issues are projected to be one of the world's biggest causes of ill health by 2030. In response, the Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour Theme is building a network of researchers to develop opportunities that cut across multiple disciplines and improve the linkage of biological mechanisms with social and environmental drivers of mental health and illness.

Lead Research Theme: Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour




Fighting cancer with the immune system


Academic Leads: Louise Boyle, Klaus Okkenhaug and Rahul Roychoudhuri

The human body has the power to prevent, control, and eliminate cancer, however some cancers are invisible to our immune systems and as such can be left unchecked and become fatal. Biologists, chemists and physicists in Cambridge are pooling their expertise to understand how we can help the body recognise cancer cells early and harness natural immune responses to beat cancer and improve outcomes.

Lead Research Theme: Infection and Immunity




Biomolecular condensates - the key to health and disease


Academic Leads: Laura Itzhaki, Catherine Lindon and Ritwick Sawarkar

Inside human cells, dynamic droplets known as 'condensates' are constantly emerging, dividing and dissolving. This fascinating dance has captured the attentions of the brightest minds in Cambridge who are working across biology, chemistry, physics and engineering to understand whether these condensates could hold the key to health and disease.

Lead Research Theme: Molecules and Cells





AI and Machine Learning: building breakthroughs in biology


Academic Leads: Michael Boemo, Sebastian Eves-van den Akker and Ben Simons

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are set to revolutionise biological research in the 21st century. New technologies will allow scientists to collect and analyse data at unprecedented speed and scales, making discoveries and breakthroughs ever more achievable. The Functional and Evolutionary Genomics Theme aim to facilitate understanding of Artificial Intelligence systems in relation to biological sciences. This will be achieved by bringing computational and wet-lab scientists together, catalysing collaboration and delivering tangible benefits to researchers across the School.

Lead Research Theme: Functional and Evolutionary Genomics



Extending healthy lifespan by 10 years

Academic Leads: Dino Giussani and Walid Khaled

Over the last 60 years the global average life expectancy increased by more than 20 years, partly as a result of countless medical breakthroughs. However, most of these medical interventions address the symptoms rather than the causes of age associated diseases. Scientists in the School of Biological Sciences are combining their world leading expertise to tackle some of the biggest questions in human biology: What if we could identify those at risk of developing chronic age-related conditions before they present in the clinic? What if we could intervene before any symptoms arise and prevent disease onset? These changes would revolutionise healthcare and transform our twilight years into a healthy period of our lives.

Lead Research Theme: Reproduction, Development and Lifelong Health