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Professor Dame Molly Stevens is John Black Professor of Bionanoscience in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. She recently moved her lab from Imperial College London to the University of Oxford and the Kavli Institute for nanoscience discovery, and she is joining the Oxford Cancer community.

Please tell us in lay terms what your research focus is. 

My research is centred on exploring the interface between materials and biology. By understanding and designing the interaction between materials and biological systems - whether the latter are biomolecules, cells or whole tissues - you can open a world of possibilities. For example, you can promote tissue regeneration after an injury, develop advanced biosensors for early disease detection, or create targeted drug delivery systems to enhance treatment efficacy and reduce side effects. My research spans all these areas and by bringing together biologists, medics, engineers, physicists, computer scientists, chemists, and more, our group embodies the power of multidisciplinary collaboration to tackle complex challenges.

What are the potential implications of this work for patients?  

We have a proven track record of translating our research into real-world solutions that ultimately benefit patients. With four spin-out companies ("Nanograb" - AI enabled therapeutic binders; "Sparta Biodiscovery" - Instrumentation for gene therapy; "Zyme Dx" and "Signatur Biosciences" - next generation biosensing) and a dedicated translational team, we are all about making a difference where it matters most. By developing ultra-sensitive and multiplexed diagnostic tools we aim to detect cancer earlier, enabling timely intervention. We also aim to improve clinical stratification of cancer patients, to tailor treatment strategies more effectively. By designing novel theranostic nanoparticles and targeted drug-delivery systems we strive to mitigate the side effects commonly associated with conventional treatments while maximising their therapeutic effectiveness. Moreover, we use our knowledge in tissue engineering to build complex in vitro models in the lab. These models help us learn more about how cancer works and test new treatments faster. This means we can bring discoveries from the lab to real benefits for cancer patients more quickly.

What do you think are the major obstacles for the cancer field to overcome in the next 10 years?

Diagnosing cancer at an early stage can really make a big difference – it means better treatment options and a higher chance of beating it. More sensitive and affordable diagnostic devices that can be used right at the point of care can expand screening to a larger population and speed up the diagnosis process, making it more accessible and efficient. Access to care remains a pressing issue, even within the UK. Some people struggle to get the care they need due to long waiting times for appointments, difficulties in reaching centralised healthcare facilities, and financial barriers associated with the direct and indirect costs of cancer treatments. Ensuring fair access to cancer care and treatment for everyone, tackling inequalities in healthcare access, and making cancer treatments more efficacious whilst remaining affordable could be one of the most significant challenges of the next decade, particularly in the face of current economic crises and instability.

What does Oxford Cancer mean for you and your research?

Cancer is a complex illness, and I firmly believe that working together across different fields is crucial for tackling complex challenges like this. Oxford Cancer brings together scientists from diverse disciplines, alongside clinicians and patients, all under the same roof. We are particularly excited about working with clinicians and people who will understand far more about the biological basis of cancer than we do. By combining these different areas of expertise with our bioengineering approaches we can better understand how cancer works and improve the tests and treatments available to patients. We are also interested in expertise available via Oxford Cancer in artificial intelligence, DNA sequencing, and bioimaging technologies. My whole team has recently moved from Imperial College to our new home in Oxford's Kavli Institute and we are very excited to join the community in Oxford!