St. Anna CCRI welcomes George Cresswell as new Principal Investigator

(Vienna, 01.08.2023) British bioinformatician George Cresswell has been studying various forms of childhood cancer, especially nephroblastoma, since his student days. As Principal Investigator at St. Anna Children’s Cancer Research Institute, he will turn his attention to the evolutionary biology of cancer cells in an attempt to better understand and perhaps even predict their development.

Since genome sequencing has become part of everyday life in the biological sciences and has revolutionized medical research, bioinformaticians have become an indispensable part of research institutes. Experts in reading big data in biology are in great demand today – also at St. Anna Children’s Cancer Research Institute, where a core unit with bioinformaticians already exists. Now the institute has brought a young bioinformatician to Vienna, who is setting up his own group as Principal Investigator: George Cresswell.  The scientist, who grew up in Crewe, a town in the county of Cheshire in the northwest of England, studied biochemistry at the University of Manchester.

Amid an initial boom in genome sequencing applications, Cresswell learned quite quickly how the technology worked.  Even then, collecting high-throughput genetic data was considered a major advance in understanding processes important to cell development, providing an amazing insight into the cell’s DNA and its composition. As part of an exchange program, he first made his way to Vienna for 13 months in 2011 – to Boehringer-Ingelheim’s Regional Center. „I learned a lot back then.” A biomathematician explained to him that with bioinformatics, he would learn exactly the technique that would allow him to interpret the data obtained in the best possible way. With that, the next step in his education was already set: Cresswell graduated with a degree in biochemistry from Manchester and moved on to the Francis Crick Institute in London to complete his PhD.

Research focus on kidney cancer

Even then, the scientist focused on cancer research, more specifically on research into kidney tumors (nephroblastoma) in children. It is the third most common tumor disease in children, and 5-year survival rates have improved dramatically: occurring mostly in children aged one to five, up to 90 percent survive today, compared with about 50 percent in the 1960s. Cresswell is particularly interested in the evolutionary biology of tumor cells, exploring which factors play a supporting role, how metastasis occurs and what leads to relapse. His expertise in searching for single nucleotide variations, a type of mutation, is valued, as is his understanding of chromosomal instability in whole genome sequencing data.

In 2017, he moved to the Institute of Cancer Research, also in London, to join the Evolutionary Genomics and Modeling Lab of Andrea Sottoriva. The latter is an international star in the field of computational biology research. With Sottoriva as last author, Cresswell published a paper in the journal Nature Communications in 2020 that looked at the evolution of breast cancer metastases. Here’s what you need to know: Tumor cells release segments of DNA into the blood. This work by Cresswell was about optimizing clinical tests of this circulating tumor DNA in breast cancer, by investigating how representative

Today, George Cresswell considers it “the most significant paper” of his career so far. Currently, he is establishing his own research group to continue his studies in Vienna. The city has attracted him not only because of the St. Anna Children’s Cancer Research Institute but also due to a long-term personal connection. His ultimate goal? Of course, he shares the dream of the institute: “No child should die of cancer.” This is not as unrealistic as it might sound, he says. And again, Cresswell points to the greatly improved survival rates. In any case, he will do his part to achieve this goal.

About George Cresswell

After studying Biochemistry at the University of Manchester (UK), George entered a CRUK PhD studentship at the London Research Institute in 2013. During this time, he studied the clonal evolution of paediatric kidney tumours. After graduating in 2017, after the institute had merged into the Francis Crick Institute, he joined the lab of Prof. Andrea Sottoriva at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR, London, UK) as a Postdoctoral Training Fellow. Here he continued to study cancer evolution using computational analysis, but instead focused on common adult cancers such as breast, colorectal and prostate. In 2022 he moved to the lab of Prof. Trevor Graham, who had recently joined the ICR, to study chromosomal alterations in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). He joined the CCRI in June 2023 as a Principal Investigator. Whilst researching multiple cancer types, both adult and paediatric, George has focused on the evolutionary dynamics of cancer using genomics and computational analysis. Specifically, he has specialised in the role chromosomal alterations play in cancer evolution.

In this exclusive interview he talked to us about his research journey and aspirations at St. Anna CCRI.