Dr Phil Burns

Dr Phil Burns


I am a Senior Lecturer within the Pathology & Tumour Biology section of LICAP. My main research interests have focussed on the aetiology and early detection of cancer. I obtained a PhD in Genetics from the University of Edinburgh in 1984, under the supervision of Professor John Fincham and Dr Brian Kilby, studying the mutational specificity of carcinogens in Neurospora crassa.

I then worked at the University of York in Toronto from 1984-87 as a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Prof Barry Glickman studying the mutational specificity of carcinogens in the lacI gene of E. coli. In 1987 I took up a research fellowship with Dr Alan Balmain at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow studying genetic changes in mouse skin tumours, where I was able to show that different carcinogens could induce characteristic mutational changes in the mouse TP53 gene.

 In 1992 I took up a Senior Research Fellowship in the Biology Department at the University of York where my group studied mutational changes in human bladder cancer and showed that metachronous bladder tumours are monoclonal in origin since they all carry identical TP53 mutations. We also showed that it was possible to detect tumour cells in urine samples several months before cancer was diagnosed by conventional means. I accepted the post of Senior Lecturer in Gynaeoncology in the Academic Pathology Department in the University of Leeds School of Medicine in 1995. In subsequent years my group investigated the early detection of ovarian cancer through the analysis of free circulating nucleic acid in cancer patients, the role of microRNAs in ovarian cancer, predictive markers for response to novel targeted therapies, and the process of epithelial-mesenchymal transition in ovarian cancer.


  • MBChB Associate Director of Student Support
  • MBChB Head of Year 2

Research interests

Until I switched into a predominantly teaching role in 2015 my research group had concentrated on ovarian cancer. We investigated the use of primary cultures derived from the malignant ascites of ovarian cancer patients to test novel targeted therapies and identify gene expression patterns that can predict response to such therapies. We also used the same model cell culture system to look at the epithelial-mesenchymal status of malignant ovarian cancer cells and the role of microRNAs in determining this status. Key words: Ovarian cancer, EMT, therapy, targeted, gene expression array, microRNAs, ascites, HER family, ABC transporters


  • BSc (HONS) Genetics, 2.1 Class, University of Edinburgh, 1980
  • PhD Genetics, University of Edinburgh, 1984

Student education

I have been Head of Yr2 for the MBChB programme since 2010, and have been Lead for the MBChB Yr2 Essential Medical Science course since 2003. I have also been the Student Education Lead for my institute since 2012. In 2018 I took on the role of Associate Director of Student Support for Years 1 and 2 of the MBChB programme.

Research groups and institutes

  • Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St James's