Northern Institute for Cancer Research

Staff Profile

Dr Helen Reeves

Senior Lecturer & Honorary Consultant Gastroenterologist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust



I am an academic hepatologist, looking after patients with primary liver cancer. My long term goal is to improve outcomes for these patients, in part by developing tools to detect their cancers earlier, but also by identifying novel therapeutic candidates to take forward into clinical use, alongside the biomarkers needed to implement them.


My clinical role is that of lead physician within the Hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, co-ordinating the care of patients with hepatocellular cancer in Northern England. 

My research role and responsibility is that of a senior lecturer and lead PI in the Hepatopancreatobiliary group in the Northern Institute for cancer research. I work closely with Dr Ruchi Shukla, who has recently joined the group, as well as with Professor John Lunec and Professor Steven Wedge form the NICR, as well as with Dr Fiona Oakley and Dina Tiniakos from ICM. We presently supervise 4 PhD students, with two more joining the group in September.  

I have just completed 3 years serving as the UK representative on the European Association for Study of the Liver (EASL) governing board.


  • 1998 BMedSci (Hons) 2:1 (Nottingham University Medical School, UK)      
  • 1990 BM.BS. (Nottingham University Medical School, UK)    
  • 1993 Member of Royal College of Physicians (London, UK)   
  • 1995-1997 Wellcome Trust Clinical Training Fellowship
  • 2000 PhD (University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)
  • 2000 Peel Medical research Trust Travel Fellowship     
  • 2000-2002  American Association for Study of Liver Diseases Fellowship     
  • 2003-2008  GlaxoSmithKline Senior Fellowship       
  • 2005  Member of Association of Physicians    
  • 2007  Fellow Royal College Physicians (London, UK)
  • 2007  Founding Member ILCA (International Liver Cancer Association)
  • 2011-2014 British Association Cancer Research – Committee Member
  • 2012  Founding member HCC-UK
  • 2013-2016 European Association for Study of the Liver Governing Board – UK representative 


  • 1994 British Liver Trust laboratory support grant                  
  • 1995-1997 Wellcome Trust Clinical Training Fellowship                               
  • 1997 Dewar Research Prize, Northern Association of Physicians
  • 2000 Peel Medical Research Trust Travel Award                   
  • 2001-2002 American Association for Study of Liver Diseases Fellowship
  • 2002-2008 GlaxoSmithKline Senior Fellowship                   
  • 2003-2005 European Brewers Association Project Grant -  (Gene profiling in ALD) (PI)
  • 2004-2006 Newcastle Special Trustees Set up Grant (KLF6 in Colorectal cancer) (PI) 
  • 2004 LiverNorth Laboratory Support grant     (PI)
  • 2005 Newcastle Special Trustees Award (DNA damage in Pancreatic cancer)     (PI) 
  • 2009 Newcastle Special Trustees Award (Gene profiling in NAFLD) (PI)
  • 2009-2013 LiverNorth & patient donations PhD studentship (DNA-PK in HCC) (PI)
  • 2011-2012 The Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust pilot – chemotherapy induced liver injury (PI)

FUNDING 2010 onwards

  • FP7 European framework programme  - Project Grant: FLIP – Fatty Liver Inhibition of Progression.         Sub-project: HCC in NAFLD and HCC. 2010 - 2014. 1.3 million Euro (Subproject PI value €273,000).
  • Newcastle Medical Faculty & Newcastle Cancer Centre studentship - Detection of circulating tumour cells in Liver cancer patients using the Imagestream system.  2011- 2014. £76,737 – Principal Investigator
  • Newcastle Cancer Centre Pump-priming Consumable Award - Detection of circulating tumour cells in NAFLD patients with HCC, using the Imagestream system. 2011- 2013. £22,500 – Principal Investigator.
  • EU H2020 Programme, EPOS – Elucidating Pathways of Steatohepatitis.  €6,000,000, 2015-2019. Co-investigator, Sub-project PI – SULF2 in HCC development and progression.
  • EASL Registry Grant, ‘The European NAFLD Registry’, €50,000 2015-2017. Co-investigator
  • CRUK and ASTEX Alliance – Newcastle Cancer Centre Drug Discovery Programme. £3,500,000; 2012-2018, Collaborator.
  • Cancer Research UK PhD Studentship. Translating novel therapeutic approaches into treatments for patients with hepatocellular cancer. Co-supervisor. 2013-2017.
  • MRC Confidence in Concept. RNASeq to identify candidate drivers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease progression to fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. £41,500, 2015-2016. Principal Investigator
  • Cancer Research UK PhD studentship. Neutrophils as drivers of hepatocellular carcinoma progression – predictive biomarker and target for therapeutic intervention? 2016 - 2020; Principal Investigator.
  • MRC MICA- Exploring a new perspective on the mechanism of action of glucokinase activators in liver:        a preclinical study. 3 years. £746,548. 2016-2019. Co-investigator
  • CMAL (CR UK/Medimmune Alliance) collaboration - Exploring SULF2 as a therapeutic target in HCC. 




Target discovery and validation

Our group is interested in the molecular pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) arising on a background of obesity, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). We are particularly interested in the role played by the diseased tumour microenvironment / extracellular matrix in cancer development and progression.  We have developed a dietary model where mice fed a high fat and high sugar diet develop NAFLD and HCC and we have been exploring this for novel targets to exploit as preventive or antitumour therapies. These include a sulfatase (SULF2) which is overexpressed in tumour activated stromal cells, that alters the sulfation status of matrix molecules, receptors and ligands for signalling pathways, up-regulating growth and migration. We are also studying the contribution of inflammatory cells such as neutrophils in HCC development and progression.  An associated interest is in the response to damage that occurs in cancer cells – either as a result of inflammation related damage or chemo-radiotherapies.  We have shown that the cancers survive damage and resist treatment partially as a result of increased DNA damage repair – DNA-PK in particular.  We are exploring DNA-PK inhibition in models of HCC.

Prognostic and predictive biomarker development

HCC is the 6th most common cancer worldwide, but actually the 2nd commonest cause of cancer death.  This is because the majority of those affected present at an advanced stage, with poor liver function consequent to underlying chronic liver disease, and we have no effective treatments.  We do know that early detection of HCC in patients with cirrhosis can result in cure.  It is tragic therefore, that even though we know the patient group at risk, we do not have effective screening or surveillance tools.  With our liver group colleagues in the institute of cellular medicine, we have an interest in identifying genetic markers associated with HCC risk.  With national and international collaborators, we are also exploring serum surveillance biomarkers.  For patients in who we diagnose an HCC, it is often hard to know which treatment is best for them.  This is partly because we rarely have tissue from their cancer – the diagnosis is usually made on imaging and biopsy is risky.  So we have no robust biomarkers to know if one or other treatment is best.  Guidelines advise treatment based largely on the risk of making liver function worse, rather than shrinking a tumour.  We have a major interest therefore, in emerging ‘liquid biopsy’ tools – circulating tumour cells, circulating tumour DNA.  We are exploring these methods in hope that we will be able to stratify treatment for our patients, as well as monitor responses, more effectively.  We do this alongside characterising tissue samples changes in those patients where we have them – looking at SULF2 and DNA-PK amongst other things.  To support these translational studies, we have created a liver cancer tissue bank, which presently has donated samples from over 500 of our patients with HCC.


Undergraduate Teaching

  • Informal clinical ward based teaching on a monthly basis
  • Lecturer on medical students on the yearly liver course
  • Undergraduate tutor
  • Undergraduate students

Postgraduate Teaching

  • Lecturer to Gastroenterology SpRs
  • Lecturer to Oncology SpRs
  • Lecturer to Transplant co-ordinators
  • Informal ward based clinical teaching
  • Non- clinical - 4 PhD students