Institute announces new Epigenetics and Signalling research programme leaders

Institute announces new Epigenetics and Signalling research programme leaders

Institute announces new Epigenetics and Signalling research programme leaders

The Babraham Institute is pleased to welcome two of its senior scientists to the leadership of its Epigenetics and Signalling research programmes. Dr Gavin Kelsey will assume the leadership of the Epigenetics research programme, previously led by Professor Wolf Reik (now Acting Director) and Dr Simon Cook will become the head of the Institute’s Signalling research programme as Dr Len Stephen steps down.

Professor Wolf Reik welcomed Dr Kelsey and Dr Cook to their new positions, saying: “Congratulations to Gavin and Simon on their new appointments. We look forward to them taking the Epigenetics and Signalling programmes into future exciting science developments, especially with the ongoing group leader recruitments, and to seeing even more integration between the Institute’s three research programmes. A great big thank you to Len for his enormous contributions to shaping the Signalling programme, and the Institute more generally, over many years!”

The Epigenetics research programme

The Institute’s Epigenetics research programme comprises seven research groups and also currently hosts an honorary group leader, Professor Martin Howard from the John Innes Centre, through the Institute’s affiliate programme. 

Inside cells, genetic information stored in DNA is packaged by proteins into a structure called chromatin. Epigenetics is the study of chemical modifications to DNA and to chromatin and the effects that these modifications have on genome function. Epigenetic marks are involved in the creation of different types of cells from stem cells and epigenetic changes over time are associated with ageing. Epigenetic marks also provide a form of cellular memory, recording certain information about past events and potentially carrying it between parent and child. The work of the groups within the Epigenetic programme aims to enhance our understanding of how epigenetics shapes human development and affects healthy ageing.

Dr Gavin Kelsey, new Head of the Epigenetics programme, said: "I am delighted to be taking up the role as head of the Epigenetics programme. Wolf has established a truly world-class team of scientists in the programme. I look forward to working with this wonderful group of colleagues in setting the programme’s focus and objectives. I am also looking forward to welcoming new group leaders to the programme and seeing them become established at the Institute."

The Signalling research programme

The Institute’s Signalling research programme unites eight research groups that work to discover the role that signalling has in helping cells to respond and adapt to damage, illness, dietary and environmental changes and ageing. The process of cell signalling consists of many interconnected biochemical pathways that allow cells to communicate, co-ordinate and respond rapidly to change. By examining these signalling mechanisms and their interactions the Institute’s signalling research seeks to understand the effects of signalling on cell growth, survival and behaviour. Individual research areas within the Signalling research programme include the PI3K pathway, reversible protein phosphorylation, the role and regulation of Rac-GEF proteins, the cellular recycling process of autophagy and clearance processes preventing the accumulation of faulty proteins. These are studied in the context of health and disease.

Dr Simon Cook, new Head of the Signalling programme, said: "I am delighted and honoured to be taking over the leadership of the Signalling Programme from Len Stephens. Len has been an inspirational leader who has recruited a great group of scientists as colleagues. I look forward to working with them on setting the future direction of the programme. I am also looking forward to welcoming new group leaders to the Institute from our current recruitment effort. It is an exciting time!"


Gavin Kelsey biography

Gavin obtained a BSc in Biochemistry from King’s College London and a PhD in Genetics from University College London. Between 1987 and 1995 he was a postdoc at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg in the lab of the late Günther Schütz, where he held a long-term post-doctoral fellowship from EMBO (1987-1999). In 1995 Gavin joined the Babraham Institute as a group leader aiming to identify and characterise new imprinted genes, holding an MRC senior fellowship from 1995-2005. In addition to the discovery of a number of imprinted genes, his group investigated imprinted gene effects on growth, metabolism and behaviour, as well as in human disease. His group currently focuses on understanding how epigenetic states are established in mammalian germ cells and early embryos, and the effects of ageing and diet on the integrity of epigenetic information and its transmission to the next generation. In addition to his role as a group leader at the Institute, Gavin is affiliated to the University of Cambridge Centre for Trophoblast Research, has served on grant committees for the BBSRC and other research funders, and is currently Associate Editor of Clinical Epigenetics, Molecular Human Reproduction, and a Faculty 1000 Member for Epigenetics & Epigenomics.

Simon Cook biography

Simon became interested in signal transduction during his Biochemistry degree at Royal Holloway College, University of London. He did his PhD with Michael Wakelam at the University of Glasgow, studying lipid signalling by Phospholipase-C and -D.  A chance meeting over a beer at a conference led to his move in 1991 as a postdoc with Frank McCormick at ONYX Pharmaceuticals in the San Francisco Bay Area where he studied the then emerging RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK1/2 pathway. Following his postdoc Simon stayed on at ONYX as a Staff Scientist and member of the RAS Group Steering Committee. He was also Project Manager for the Inflammation Project and in this capacity forged a PI3K drug discovery collaboration with Len Stephens and Phill Hawkins at the Babraham Institute.

In 1997 he joined the Babraham Institute as a tenure track group leader in the Signalling programme and from 2000-2006 he held a CRUK Senior Cancer Research Fellowship. He is currently Head of Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation at the Institute and collaborates extensively with industry, including AstraZeneca, Astex Pharmaceuticals and PhoreMost. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of CRUK’s Therapeutic Discovery Laboratory, the Beatson Institute Drug Discovery Unit and PhoreMost.

Simon’s group studies protein kinase signalling pathways, in particular the MAPKs, DYRKs and the mTOR pathway. He is interested in how these pathways are regulated and how they control autophagy, cell survival or apoptosis, cell division or cell cycle arrest and differentiation. He has published over 115 papers that have received more than 11,000 citations.


Notes for Editors

Press contact

Dr Louisa Wood, Babraham Institute Communications Manager,

Image description

Top image: Multiple successive planes of a developing mouse embryo ((blastocyst stage). DNA stained with DAPI (blue); Dppa4 protein (in green) shows nuclear localisation by Oana Kubinyecz, Babraham Institute.

Lower image: Section of an image of a human pancreatic cancer cell line (PANC-1) which shows large variations in the size of individual cells. Cell nuclei are shown in blue, microtubules in green and mitochondria in magenta. Image by Emma Duncan.

Additional/related resources:

Epigenetics research reports from the 2018 Annual Research Report

Signalling research reports from the 2018 Annual Research Report

Institute group leaders at a glance

Latest news from the Epigenetics research programme

Latest news from the Signalling research programme


About the Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.