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Ben Harris

CRTF, Department of Oncology

RESEARCH: Using functional genetics to assess the link between obesity and altered mitochondrial metabolism in breast cancer

Benjamin Harris graduated from Cardiff University with a medical degree (MBBCh), taking an intercalating year at Oxford to pursue the MSc in Radiation Biology and Oncology. Before undertaking his DPhil, Ben completed an Academic Foundation training programme, as well as pursuing an Oncology fellowship in Sydney and completing his core medical training. 

What’s your current research and how could it impact patients?

There is growing interest in the relationship between systemic metabolism and cancer. We know that breast cancer risk is substantially elevated in patients with obesity or type 2 diabetes and it is estimated that, in the next decade, obesity will become the most important environmental risk factor for development of cancer in the western world (overtaking smoking)(1-3). Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain the links between obesity, diabetes and the increased risk of breast cancer(4, 5). However, these associations are still not well understood, and would benefit from a systematic analysis. My DPhil sets out to further clarify these links, using a combination of big data and machine learning approaches together with laboratory techniques. Development of a strong bioinformatics skillset alongside my acumen at the bench and the bedside will allow me the best possible background to ultimately optimise patient care. I am indebted to Cancer Research UK for supporting my work and helping me to develop as a clinician scientist.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A mix of dry lab, wet lab, and clinical work. Every day presents a different challenge!

And finally, what do you do outside of your studies?

I’m a lecturer at St Anne’s College and also enjoy travelling and the gym.


  1. Haslam DW, James WP. Obesity. Lancet. 2005;366(9492):1197-209.
  2. Sun H, Zou J, Chen L, Zu X, Wen G, Zhong J. Triple-negative breast cancer and its association with obesity. Molecular and clinical oncology. 2017;7(6):935-42.
  3. The L. The link between cancer and obesity. Lancet. 2017;390(10104):1716.
  4. Harvey AE, Lashinger LM, Hursting SD. The growing challenge of obesity and cancer: an inflammatory issue. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2011;1229:45-52.
  5. Taubes G. Cancer research. Unraveling the obesity-cancer connection. Science. 2012;335(6064):28, 30-2.