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Professor Anne Willis OBE is Director of the MRC Toxicology Unit and MRC Investigator for the Post-transcriptional control of gene expression following toxic injury Programme and the cross-Unit Fibre Toxicity Programme


Anne obtained a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of London while working in the Imperial Cancer Research Fund laboratories (now CRUK) on DNA repair with Dr Tomas Lindahl.  She then moved to Cambridge to work with Professor Richard Perham in the Department of Biochemistry, where she also held a Junior Research Fellowship and then a College Lectureship at Churchill College Cambridge.  Anne was appointed to her first independent position as a Lecturer in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Leicester, progressing to Reader in 2002 and Professor in 2004, from 2000-2005 she held a BBSRC Advanced Fellowship. In 2004, she was appointed Director of Cancer Research Nottingham and Chair of Cancer Cell Biology, where she was based in the School of Pharmacy.  From 2009-2013 Anne held a BBSRC Professorial Fellowship. In 2010 Anne became 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.

Research Interests:

Anne’s research in the Unit is directed towards understanding the role of post-transcriptional control in response to toxic injury with a focus on RNA-binding proteins, regulatory RNA motifs and tRNAs.  Through our mechanistic research we are developing predictive adverse outcome models that can be shared with our industrial partners, in particular we are working to understand the “off target” effects of new modalities such as therapeutic RNAs. In addition to her Unit programme, Anne holds a Wellcome Trust investigator award (jointly with Professor Kathryn Lilley in Biochemistry) to research into the processes that drive localised mRNA translation, a Wellcome Trust collaborative grant to study the role of mRNA translation elongation control in health and disease, with additional funding from BBSRC, Bloodwise and Cancer Research Technologies (as part of translational alliance with industry).

Key Publications:

(Find full list of publications here: Google Scholar)

  1. Grosso S et al Willis AE (2021) The pathogenesis of mesothelioma is driven by a dysregulated translatome Nat Commun. 12: 4920.
  2. Knight JRP, et al Willis AE, Bushell M, Sansom OJ. (2021) Cancer Discov. 11(5):1228-1247.
  3. Smith EM, et al Willis AE*, Bushell M* (2021)  The mTOR regulated RNA-binding protein LARP1 requires PABPC1 for guided mRNA interaction.  Nucleic Acids Res. 11;49(1):458-478. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkaa1189.
  4. Zoe A Stephenson, Robert F Harvey, Kenneth R Pryde, Sarah Mistry, Rachel E Hardy, Riccardo Serreli, Injae Chung, Timothy EH Allen, Mark Stoneley, Marion MacFarlane, Peter M Fischer, Judy Hirst, Barrie Kellam, Anne E Willis* (2020) Identification of a novel toxicophore in anti-cancer chemotherapeutics that targets mitochondrial respiratory complex I eLife. 2020; 9: e55845
  5. Robert F Harvey, Tuija A A Pöyry, Mark Stoneley, Anne E Willis* (2019) Signaling from mTOR to eIF2α mediates cell migration in response to the chemotherapeutic doxorubicin. Science Signal 12 (612):eaaw6763. doi: 10.1126/scisignal.aaw6763.
  6. Liko D, Mitchell L, Campbell KJ, Ridgway RA, Jones C, Dudek K, King A, Bryson S, Stevenson D, Blyth K, Strathdee D, Morton JP, Bird TG, Knight JRP, Willis AE, Sansom OJ. (2019) Brf1 loss and not overexpression disrupts tissues homeostasis in the intestine, liver and pancreas. Cell Death Differ. 26(12):2535-2550.
  7. Queiroz RML, Smith T, Villanueva E, Marti-Solano M, Monti M, Pizzinga M, Mirea DM, Ramakrishna M, Harvey RF, Dezi V, Thomas GH, Willis AE, Lilley KS. (2019) Comprehensive identification of RNA-protein interactions in any organism using orthogonal organic phase separation (OOPS).  Nat Biotechnol. 37(2):169-178.
  8. Piñeiro D, Stoneley M, Ramakrishna M, Alexandrova J, Dezi V, Juke-Jones R, Lilley KS, Cain K, Willis AE.  Identification of the RNA polymerase I-RNA interactome. Nucleic Acids Res. (2018) 16;46(20):11002-11013
  9. Marini A, Rotblat B, Sbarrato T, Niklison-Chirou MV, Knight JRP, Dudek K, Jones C, Bushell M, Knight RA, Amelio I, Willis AE*, Melino G*. (2018) TAp73 contributes to the oxidative stress response by regulating protein synthesis.  Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 115:6219-6224.
  10. Chernova T, Murphy FA, Galavotti S, Grosso S, Dudek KM, Dinsdale D, Le Quesne J, Bennett, Donaldson K, Bushell M, Willis AE*, MacFarlane M*. (2017) Long-Fiber Carbon Nanotubes Replicate Asbestos-Induced Mesothelioma with Disruption of the Tumor Suppressor Gene Cdkn2a (Ink4a/Arf). Curr Biol. 27:3302-3314.e6.
  11. Bastide A, Peretti D, Knight JR, Grosso S, Spriggs RV, Pichon X, Sbarrato T, Roobol A, Roobol J, Vito D, Bushell M, von der Haar T, Smales CM, Mallucci GR*, Willis AE*.   (2017) RTN3 Is a Novel Cold-Induced Protein and Mediates Neuroprotective Effects of RBM3. Curr Biol. 27:638-650.


MRC Investigator

Contact Details

MRC Toxicology Unit
Gleeson Building
Tennis Court Road


Telephone and Email

+44 (0)1223 3 34896