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MRC Toxicology Unit

Welcome to the MRC Toxicology Unit

The Medical Research Council (MRC) Toxicology Unit is a leading International Research Institute within the School of Biological Sciences, University of Cambridge. The Unit delivers mechanistic toxicology research, pursuing hypothesis-driven toxicological questions with a particular focus on the study of the causal links between exposure to endogenous and exogenous toxicants, molecular initiating events and adverse outcome pathways. The Unit's overall aims are to carry out pioneering research which leads to improved health and to train and mentor the next generation of toxicologists.


Professor Anne Willis is Director of the MRC Toxicology Unit.  Anne was appointed as a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation in 2015, and in 2017 awarded an OBE for services to biomedical sciences and supporting the careers of women scientists.

Professor Anne Willis OBE


Dr Miguel Martins has been quoted in two articles published by The Guardian linking air pollution and coronavirus

5 May 2020

Our Programme Leader, Dr Miguel Martins, has contributed to two articles written by The Guardian about the links between air pollution and coronavirus deaths: Preliminary study links air pollution to coronavirus deaths in England ​ Is air pollution making the coronavirus pandemic even more deadly?

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Marco Travaglio speaks to New Scientist about the group's work on COVID-19

5 May 2020

Marco Travaglio, PhD student in Dr Miguel Martin's research programme, has spoken about the COVID-19 research that they are conducting in an article published by New Scientist: ' Are you more likely to die of covid-19 if you live in a polluted area?' Marco has also been quoted in the Financial Times article: ' Academics...

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Yizhou Yu speaks on France 24 regarding the links between air pollution and COVID-19

28 April 2020

On the 27th April, Yizhou Yu, a student in Dr Miguel Martin's research programme, spoke on France 24 about the possible link between levels of air pollution and the severity of the COVID-19 illness. To watch the video on the France 24 website please click here.

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Dr James Thaventhiran joins Dr Nicholas Matheson for the CITIID's weekly COVID-19 update

21 April 2020

On the 16th April, Dr James Thaventhiran joined Dr Nicholas Matheson for the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease's (CITIID) weekly COVID-19 update. This talk, along with all other previous updates from the CITIID, can be found here. Details of the weekly webinar can be found here . Each...

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New European Partnerships to Accelerate Cancer Research

19 March 2020

Cancer Research UK and its European partners, Fondazione AIRC and Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (AECC), will invest £27.4 million into seven new international projects to accelerate lifesaving cancer research. The Cancer Research UK Accelerator Awards programme, which provides five years of funding for international...

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Thaventhiran lab's publication selected as one of the top ten papers of 2019 by the Journal of Experimental Medicine

19 March 2020

The Thaventhiran lab's paper 'Loss of the interleukin-6 receptor causes immunodeficiency, atopy, and abnormal inflammatory responses' has been selected as one of the Top Ten Papers of 2019 by the Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM). Brief Definitive Report Interleukin-6 receptor deficiency Sarah Spencer; Sevgi Köstel...

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Ritwick Sawarkar receives Alfred Tissières Young Investigator Award

13 March 2020

The MRC Toxicology Unit would like to congratulate Dr Ritwick Sawarkar who recieved The Alfred Tissières Young Investigator Award 2019. This award was established by The Executive Council of the Cell Stress Society International. Dr Sawarkar received the award for his contribution to the heat shock and cellular stress...

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ESTIV Early Career Award granted to Dr. Timothy Allen

20 January 2020

The MRC Toxicology Unit is pleased to announce that Dr Timothy Allen has been granted the first European Society of Toxicology In Vitro (ESTIV) Early Career Award. More information about the ESTIV Early Career Award can be found here:

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Air pollution from brake dust may have same harmful effects on immune cells as diesel exhaust

20 January 2020

Metal particles from the abrasion of brake pads - up to a fifth of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution at roadsides - may cause inflammation and reduce the ability of immune cells to kill bacteria, a new study has found, similarly to particles derived from diesel exhaust. The scientists, primarily funded by the...

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Roobol A, Roobol J, Smith ME, Carden MJ, Hershey JWB, Willis AE, Smales CM. Engineered transient and stable overexpression of translation factors eIF3i and eIF3c in CHOK1 and HEK293 cells gives enhanced cell growth associated with increased c-Myc expression and increased recombinant protein synthesis. Metab Eng. 2020 May;59:98-105. doi: 10.1016/j.ymben.2020.02.001. Epub 2020 Feb 13. PMID:32061967


Pizzinga M, Harvey RF, Garland GD, Mordue R, Dezi V, Ramakrishna M, Sfakianos A, Monti M, Mulroney TE, Poyry T, Willis AE. The cell stress response: extreme times call for post-transcriptional measures. Wiley Interdiscip Rev RNA. 2020 May;11(3):e1578. doi: 10.1002/wrna.1578. Epub 2019 Nov 21. Review. PMID: 31755249


Thaventhiran J.E.D. et al. Whole-genome sequencing of a sporadic primary immunodeficiency cohort. Nature, 2020, In press, publication date 4 May 2020


Zhang YZ, Brambilla C, Molyneaux PL, Rice A, Robertus JL, Jordan S, Lim E, Lang-Lazdunski L, Begum S, Dusmet M, Anikin V, Beddow E, Finch J, Asadi N, Popat S, Le Quesne J, Husain AN, Cookson WO, Moffatt MF, Nicholson AG. Presence of pleomorphic features but not growth patterns improves prognostic stratification of epithelioid malignant pleural mesothelioma by 2-tier nuclear grade. Histopathology. 2020 Apr 25. doi: 10.1111/his.14127. Online ahead of print. PMID: 32333813


Staples E,…Thaventhiran, J.E.D. ADA2 deficiency complicated by EBV-driven lymphoproliferative disease. Clinical Immunology. In press, sent to production 22 April 2020


Lorenzini T, Fliegauf M, Klammer N, Frede N, Proietti M, Bulashevska A, Camacho-Ordonez N, Varjosalo M, Kinnunen M, de Vries E, van der Meer JWM, Ameratunga R,...