Previous Medal Winners

David Phillips

David H Phillips obtained his degree in Chemistry from Oxford University and his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of London. He obtained his post-doctoral training in the laboratories of James and Elizabeth Miller (McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin, Madison) and of Philip Hanawalt (Stanford University). On returning to the UK he joined the Institute of Cancer Research. In 2011 he moved to King’s College London, where he is Professor of Environmental Carcinogenesis.

David Phillips’s unique contribution to biomedical science over several decades is in the detection, characterisation and biological consequences of DNA damage. He has an international reputation in the field of environmental carcinogenesis and his research has advanced understanding of the role of environmental factors in the aetiology of cancer. This has been through innovative mechanistic studies on the metabolic activation of chemical carcinogens leading to the formation of DNA adducts, an early critical event in the carcinogenic process, and also in pioneering methods for the detection of adducts in human tissues as a validated biomarker in molecular epidemiology and a major component of the emerging field of “exposomics”.
He was the first to demonstrate that chemical modification of a proto-oncogene with an environmental carcinogen led to its mutation and activation to an oncogene. He has pioneered the characterisation of DNA adducts as a means of identifying mechanisms of action of carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and tamoxifen, showing the latter to be a genotoxic carcinogen in rodents but a non-genotoxic carcinogen in humans. He has made major contributions to understanding the harmful effects of tobacco by detecting smoking-related DNA damage in smokers’ lung, and also in other human tissues including cervix and breast in studies that predated the epidemiological evidence that smoking causes cervical and breast cancer. The same approaches have led to the major discovery of aristolochic acid as a human carcinogen.

His wider commitment to medical science and public engagement is demonstrated by his advocacy for tobacco control, his chairing the government advisory Committee on Carcinogenicity and by his serving on many international committees evaluating carcinogenic risks to humans. He is past President of the UK Environmental Mutagen Society and has tirelessly promoted the careers of young scientists. He is also editor of a scientific journal, Mutagenesis.

Christopher Paul Wild

Christopher Paul Wild obtained his PhD in 1984 from the University of Manchester, UK while working on the production of monoclonal antibodies to detect low levels of methylated DNA bases. He was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to work in Lyon, France and subsequently a UK Royal Society European Exchange Fellowship to spend a year at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam.

In 1987 he rejoined IARC as a staff scientist and later became Chief of the Unit of Environmental Carcinogenesis. In 1996 he was appointed to the Chair of Molecular Epidemiology at the University of Leeds, was Head of the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics and became Director of the Leeds Institute of Genetics, Health and Therapeutics in December 2005.

Dr Wild was elected Director of IARC, the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, from 1st January 2009 and was subsequently re-elected for a second five-year term of office. While at the Agency he has pursued a strategy of cancer research for cancer prevention, with activities structured around core areas of: describing the occurrence of cancer; elucidating the causes; and evaluating preventive interventions and their implementation in national cancer control programmes. He has also placed emphasis on training the next generation of cancer researchers worldwide.

Dr Wild’s main research interest is to understand the interplay between environmental and genetic risk factors in the causation of human cancer. He has particularly sought to apply biomarkers in population-based studies in relation to liver and oesophageal cancers. His work on mycotoxins has resulted in the development of novel exposure biomarkers for aflatoxins, fumonisins and deoxynivalenol. The work on aflatoxins led to the first observations that these potent carcinogens also cause growth impairment in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2005 he proposed the concept of the exposome in order to draw attention to the need for improved exposure assessment to elucidate the causes of human cancer.

Further details can be found on the IARC website: http://www.iarc.fr/ and http://www.iarc.fr/en/office-dir/index.php

Peter B Farmer

Peter B Farmer’s University education was in Oxford where he received a BA and a DPhil in Chemistry.  After a year as a post-doctoral fellow in the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, he worked at the Chester Beatty Research Institute, Institute of Cancer Research, London for 7 years. In 1978 he moved to the MRC Toxicology Unit in Carshalton, and moved with the Unit to Leicester in 1993. From 2002 to the end of 2012 (when he retired to an Emeritus Professorship) he worked in the University of Leicester where he was Professor of Cancer Biomarkers in the Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine.

Peter Farmer’s initial research interest was in the mechanism of action of anticancer drugs and carcinogens, and in particular their metabolism and the reactions of active metabolites with target sites in DNA. The greater understanding of the nature of these interactions led to the possibility of developing biomarkers of exposure and effect of carcinogens, which could be used to guide the use of preventive measures aimed at reducing carcinogenesis in humans. It was this strategy that Peter Farmer pursued throughout his career. The crucial factor was the design of sufficiently sensitive and selective biomarkers that would be applicable to large-scale human molecular epidemiological studies. For example his group developed and validated state of the art analytical methodology for the determination of carcinogen adducts with proteins and DNA. The analysis of DNA adducts focused on the use of mass spectrometry (notably LC-MS/MS), although 32P-postlabelling, immunoassay, HPLC and accelerator mass spectrometry were also employed.  The interaction of reactive oxygen species with DNA was a further major area of research, and in later years the applicability of 'omics' methodology to develop biomarkers of exposure and effect was also explored.

The development of these biomarkers made an important contribution to molecular epidemiological studies on environmental and life-style factors that were thought to play a major role in the causation of cancer and other chronic diseases. Potential carcinogenic agents from environmental air pollution and dietary factors were major areas of Peter Farmer’s studies, along with investigations of the nature and source of endogenous DNA damage, and the influence of dietary chemopreventive agents on genotoxic damage.  

Peter Farmer published over 330 papers in peer reviewed journals and books, and was heavily involved in student training, including the supervision of 20 PhD students. He was much involved in large-scale research collaborations, particularly those funded by EC, to further the molecular epidemiological studies. He was also very active in a large number of committees in UK and abroad advising on carcinogenic risks to humans, including the Committee on Mutagenicity, of which he was Chairman. He is a past President of the UK Environmental Mutagen Society.

© 2019 by Molecular Epidemiology Group UK.