International Chair

Buzz Baum, UCL


Buzz Baum and his team at University College London (UCL) study cell and tissue morphogenesis in flies and in human cells – work that can be described by an acronym: CelTisPhyBio.

As a Cancer Research UK Senior Research Fellow, his team’s current main research focus is investigating the changes in the control of animal cell division that accompany cancer progression.

Cancer is a disease in which individual clones of mutant cells expand without control even when spread far from their tissue of origin. This is made possible by mutations acquired by cancer cells during tumour evolution that break their normal dependency on the local cues which usually function to ensure that the behaviour of each cell is finely tuned to the requirements of its host tissue. As a result, while normal cells only divide to maintain tissue homeostasis, during tumour evolution cancer cells acquire a novel ability to divide under a range of conditions: in the face of compressive forces in a growing tumour and, to establish metastases, in new, poorly structured environments. This is the basis of the famous “soft agar assay”, which is used to assess the metastatic potential of a cancer cells.

By carrying out a detailed study of mitotic rounding and cell division in different contexts, the goal of our research is to better understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that make cancer cells both blind and resilient in the face of a changing environment. Mechanics plays a key role in this process, since the act of cell division is involves a series of dramatic actomyosin-dependent changes in cell shape and size. These begin at the very start of mitosis as cells stop moving, de-adhere from the substrate and round up to form rigid swollen spheres that provide a safe space in which to construct and orient their bipolar spindles. Then, once anaphase is triggered, cells elongate through polar relaxation as chromosomes move apart, before dividing into two as they exit mitosis.

Ultimately, by characterizing the genes and the biochemical, physical and geometrical constraints affecting the mitotic progression in both normal and cancer cells we hope to identify novel diagnostic and prognostic markers of cancer progression, and to identify strategies by which to selectively kill dividing metastatic cancer cells.


Buzz says: ” I am thrilled to be staying at the Curie, since it is one of the best places in the world to do cancer research at the interface between the physical sciences, cell biology and cancer.”

The Labex Chair is joint position between UMR168 and UMR144, but since the physical space between the two Institute’s on the corner of Rue D’Ulm and Rue Lhomond is current occupied, he currently has his desk in the sabbatical office next to the Green cafe.

Buzz says: “My door is open, and I have purchased 60 coffee capsules, so Ill happily meet with any students or post-docs interested in stopping by. Also, several members of my team (Andrea Dimitracopoulos, Nunu McHedishvili and Helen Matthews) are excited about taking advantage of my being here to visit the Curie. Finally, I hope my stay will help to strengthen the ties between the growing community of researchers working at the interface between physics and biology in London, and the Institut Curie”.


Buzz will be working at the Curie for two periods of 3 months over the coming year.



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