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Dr Charles Birts BSc (Hons), PhD

Lecturer in Antibody Therapeutics, Principle investigator in breast cancer research

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Dr Charles Birts joined the School of Biological Sciences as an Against Breast Cancer funded lecturer in 2018. His research is focused on investigating the effect of metabolic and immunologic targeting on breast cancer development. This work involves developing novel antibody-based therapies for targeting secondary breast cancers. He is an associate member of the Cancer Sciences Unit within the Faculty of Medicine and his research lab based is within the Centre for Cancer Immunology.

Understanding the interaction between cancer cells and our own immune cells will allow us to improve the effectiveness of antibody therapies and develop novel therapeutic strategies for treating breast cancer.

Dr. Charles Birts graduated from the University of Southampton in 2003 with a first class degree in Biochemistry and Pharmacology. Subsequently he went on to complete a BBSRC funded PhD investigating the role of human gIIA phospholipase A2 in infection and trauma, under the supervision of Prof. David Wilton. During this time he was awarded ‘Young Biochemist of the Year 2005’ at the Bioscience conference in Glasgow. Following his PhD, Dr. Birts joined the laboratory of Dr. Jeremy Blaydes within the Cancer Sciences Unit in the Faculty of Medicine as a postdoctoral research fellow. After two successful postdoctoral positions he is now looking to develop his own research independence.

Dr. Birts’ main research interests are focused towards investigating the molecular mechanisms that control changes in cellular metabolism in cancer cells.

2003-2007: BBSRC sponsored PhD in Biochemistry, University of Southampton, UK
2000-2003: BSc. (Hons) Biochemistry and Pharmacology, First Class, University of Southampton, UK

Appointments held
2018-present: Lecturer in Antibody Therapeutics, University of Southampton, UK
2017-2018: European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism Research Fellow, University of Southampton, UK
2014-2017: Faculty of Medicine Career Track Fellow, University of Southampton, UK
2011-2014: Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Southampton, UK
2007-2014: Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Southampton, UK

Member of the British Association for Cancer Research and the European Association for Cancer Research
Breast Cancer Campaign Research Team of the Year award 2011, postdoctoral research fellow
Young Biochemist of the Year 2005 Award, Bioscience 2005: From molecules to organisms, Glasgow








Research interests

The aim of our work is to investigate immune cell function within the tumour microenvironment and determine how we can use antibody-glycan biology and metabolic intervention to fine tune antibody effector functions. This work is generously supported by Against Breast Cancer.

Against Breast Cancer funds pioneering research into new treatments, tools for earlier diagnosis and advice to reduce the risk of recurrence and secondary spread of breast cancer
Research generously funded by Against Breast Cancer

Designing Bispecific Antibodies against Metastic Breast Cancer: The use of therapeutic antibodies against cancer is a rapidly advancing area of research with many already in use in the clinic. One mechanism by which antibodies work is by targeting specific cell surface markers over-expressed on the surface of tumour cells. These antibodies can then recruit immune effector cells (e.g. macrophages, natural killer cells) through their Fc region to specifically destroy the cancer cells. However the use of therapeutic antibodies is limited by the availability of their specific target and their ability to engage with immune effector cells. The aim of our work is to improve the clincal scope of established therapeutic antibodies through antibody engineering methods to also target known cancer-associated glycan structures on metastic breast cancer cells. These novel antibodies will recognise multiple targets, improving both the specificity to breast cancer cells and also the recruitment of multiple immune effector cells into the tumour.

In adipose, inflammatory macrophages form crown-like structures, seen in red, at sites of adipocyte death.
Crown-like structures in breast cancer adipose tissue

Obesity and Breast Cancer: Obesity has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer occurrence and related mortality. Stromal adipocytes in obese adipose secrete chemo-attractants that recruit macrophages into the tissue. Macrophages are phagocytic immune cells and can come in many flavours with a range of functions from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory depending on how they have been activated. In adipose, inflammatory macrophages form crown-like structures at sites of adipocyte death. These macrophages produce further inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, IL-8 and TGF-B that act to sustain chronic inflammation promoting the onset and growth of tumours. The number of crown-like structures in breast cancer associated adipose is significantly increased in patients with a BMI>25. Fcγ receptors on the macrophage cell surface can bind the Fc region of antibodies. This binding can either be activatory or inhibitory in nature and can thus effect the efficacy of antibody therapies by modulating immune effector cell function within the tumour. By fully understanding these processes we aim to improve clinical outcomes for breast cancer patients.

Past work: Cancer cells show increased glycolysis due to either hypoxia or aerobic glycolysis (Warburg). Previous work has focused on investigating the molecular mechanisms that control changes in cellular metabolism in cancer cells, specifically on a family of proteins called CtBPs. CtBPs are transcriptional co-repressors sensitive to cellular glycolytic metabolites NAD+/NADH, allowing them to sense changes in glycolytic flux. Through this CtBPs have been implicated in the regulation of many pathways that drive the hallmarks of cancer, including cell proliferation, migration and invasion, and cell survival. Our work highlighted novel roles for CtBP in maintaining mitotic fidelity and in p53 homeostasis and has helped identify CtBPs as potential novel therapeutic targets in breast cancer. In collaboration with Jeremy Blaydes and Ali Tavassoli we have designed cyclic peptides to specifically inhibit CtBP dimerisation, demonstrating their potential as lead compounds for novel chemotherapeutics against breast cancer.


Cancer Sciences

Affiliate Department(s)

Antibody and Vaccine Group, Centre for Cancer Immunology, Faculty of Medicine

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BIOL6013 : Advanced Research Project (CRN 10435)
BIOL1020 : Core Skills in the Life Sciences (CRN 29877)
BIOL3060 : Science Communication (CRN 33523)
BIOL6073 : Critical Thinking in Biological Research (CRN 36221)
BIOL2011 : Molecular Cellular Biochemistry (CRN 10387)
BIOL2022 : Immunology, Infection and Inflammation (CRN 20499)
BIOL3052 : Biomedical Technology (CRN 26661)
BIOL6041 : Biomedical Technology (CRN 31147)
Integrated PhD Cancer Pathway – Supervise and train PhD students within the lab


Dr Charles Birts
Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Building 85, Life Sciences Building, Highfield Campus, Southampton, SO171BJ

Room Number: 85

Telephone:(023) 8059 4423
Facsimile:(023) 8059 3121

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