An interview with Professor Axel Behrens

Picture of Axel Behrens

Axel Behrens. Copyright Dave Guttridge / The Francis Crick Institute

Professor Axel Behrens is the inaugural Scientific Director of the Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre. We asked Axel some questions about his vision for the Convergence Science Centre.

What is the Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre?

With a remit to work across the entirety of both the ICR and Imperial, the Centre will foster new opportunities for collaboration between researchers at the two institutions. It will bring together engineering, physical sciences, life sciences and medicine in multidisciplinary collaborations to co-create new tools, technologies and methodologies that will help us address fundamental questions about cancer biology, improve disease detection, diagnosis and expand the repertoire of effective therapies.

It is underpinned by a Major Centre award from CRUK, which provides the funding to create step changes in cancer research to address unmet medical needs in all cancers, particularly those that are hard to treat. Over the first grant period, the aim is to build the collaborative network, establish key infrastructure, leverage additional funding, and start building the next generation of convergent researchers.

What are the most important problems the Centre needs to address?

The Convergence Science Centre has identified four broad thematic areas in which there are significant opportunities for convergence science between the ICR and Imperial:

Over the forthcoming months we will provide more information about these themes and the opportunities you will have to engage in them. We will be consulting widely to understand specific research challenges and supporting workshops and engagement events to bring new collaborative teams together. We invite you to contribute your ideas and suggestions of important problems in your research area the Centre should address.

What funding and resources are provided by the Convergence Science Centre?

Supporting new collaborative projects is a key aim for the Centre and we have funding for clinical and non-clinical PhDs and will be launching seed funding calls linked to the thematic areas. In addition, we are supporting research infrastructure for the development of cancer organoid cultures, device microfabrication, digital pathology and human factors – all of which can be accessed for free by researchers working on centre-funded projects.

How does the Centre align with Imperial and the ICR’s mission?

The ICR's mission (to 'make the discoveries that defeat cancer') and Imperial's ('to achieve enduring excellence in research and education in science, engineering, medicine and business for the benefit of society') are highly complementary – a key factor that underpins the powerful and synergistic strategic alliance. It is my vision that together we will build a truly inter-organisational collaborative culture that will lead to innovations that will defeat cancer.

What do you need from researchers?

I hope that a large number of researchers realise the untapped potential of convergence science in cancer research and actively engage and take advantage of the research funding and resources provided by the Centre. Please get in touch if you have an idea for a convergence science project or workshop, would like help finding a collaborator in a new discipline, or if you would like peer review support for a funding application. We will send out regular newsletters to outline upcoming funding opportunities, workshops, seminars and engagement events. You can get in touch with the operations team via icr-imperial-convergence.centre@imperial.ac.uk. Please email us to be added to the mailing list to receive updates on future news and events.

We have started a Convergence Science Centre seminar series. Please join the future live webinars which will include our Imperial colleagues presenting their technologies and expertise, with the aim of inspiring consideration of how these tools could be applied to cancer and initiating cross institutional collaborations.

What excites you most about the Convergence Science Centre?

Multidisciplinary working is critical to finding innovative solutions to address the challenges we face in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. Converging Imperial's outstanding technological capabilities in the physical sciences and engineering with the world-leading array of cancer biologists, translational researchers and clinicians at the ICR will not only accelerate progress but also lead us to new paradigms in patient care. I look forward to leading this ground-breaking partnership and driving collaboration between two such prestigious organisations.

What are colleagues least likely to know about you?

I am an enthusiastic squash player and I cannot wait to play again once the pandemic has subsided.