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Dr Chris Hanley BSc, MRes, PhD

Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow investigating the Tumour Microenvironment

Dr Chris Hanley's photo

Dr Chris Hanley is a Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow working on investigating the tumour microenvironment at the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine.

The nature of a cancer’s interaction with non-cancerous cells can determine whether the body will fight it off or help it to grow and spread. Understanding the complexity of this ‘social network’ will enable the development of more effective treatment strategies. My research uses state-of-the-art techniques to examine how cells communicate within a tumour and develop methods to therapeutically target these interactions.

Chris Hanley graduated from Imperial College London with a Biochemistry BSc in 2008. This was followed by an MRes (2011) and PhD (2014) in cancer research from the University of Southampton, including a period of study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Following his PhD, Chris has worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Southampton Cancer Sciences Unit and at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Cell Dynamics.

Dr Hanley’s research aims to understand how the tumour microenvironment influences cancer progression. Particularly focussing on the the role of cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs) in tumour progression. To examine these processes, state-of-the-art methods for analysing human tissue samples are used: including single-cell (sc)RNA-Sequencing; digital pathology analysis of multiplexed immunostaining and 3D organotypic co-cultures that incorporate autologous tumour organoids and stromal cells.

A significant achievement in this work was the identification of NAD(P)H Oxidase 4 (NOX4) as a therapeutic target.  Following this discovery, the use of NOX inhibitors to treat cancers has been patented (Hanley. CJ co-inventor - WO2019086579) and clinical trials are in development to test NOX4 inhibitor efficacy in cancer.


Research interests

Dr Hanley researches the molecular mechanisms that regulate multicellular ecosystems in tissues, focussing on lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths, amounting to ~100 in the UK every day. A defining characteristic of these tumours is that the cancer cells are found interspersed with various types of normal cell, creating what is called the “tumour microenvironment”. A prominent component of this tumour microenvironment are fibroblasts. These cells are functionally heterogeneous, capable of both promoting and suppressing tumour progression. Across cancer types, the extent of phenotypic diversity and the molecular mechanisms regulating differentiation status remain unknown.

Fibroblast activation mechanisms

To develop effective strategies for targeting cancer associated fibroblasts therapeutically, a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that regulate their activation in human tumours is required. In ongoing research, single-cell RNA-sequencing and digital pathology has been used to identify fibroblast subpopulations in lung cancer; examine their distribution throughout tissue sections and elucidate the molecular mechanisms regulating their activation. This work has been supported by a pump-priming research grant from the British Lung Foundation (PPRG17-12).

Tumour-stroma interactions

To determine how fibroblasts and other microenvironmental factors influence tumour progression a novel protocol has been developed for establishing ex vivo 3D organotypic cultures (working in collaboration with Prof. Ewald – Johns Hopkins). This technique uses cancer cells and fibroblasts from human (or murine) samples to re-create “mini-tumours” in the lab. Then state-of-the-art microscopes can be used to watch how the cells in these tumours behave (working in collaboration with Sumeet Mahajan – University of Southampton). This analysis provides novel insight into how fibroblasts impact tumour progression and enables novel therapeutic strategies to be tested in a physiologically relevant setting. This work has been supported by a research travel award from Cancer Research UK.

PhD supervision

Completed: Dr Sara Waise PhD (2020)

Research group

Cancer Sciences

University/Faculty responsibilities:

  • Cancer Sciences High Performance Champion
  • University Senate Research Representative

National and International responsibilities:

  • Scientific Journal Peer Review
  • Cancers, International Journal of Experimental Pathology
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Dr Chris Hanley
Faculty of Medicine, Room AB215, Mailpoint 801, South Academic Block, University Hospital Southampton, Tremona Road, Southampton, SO16 6YD

Room Number : SGH/Cancer Sciences Unit

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