Northern Institute for Cancer Research

Staff Profile

Professor Jonathan Higgins

Professor of Eukaryotic Molecular Cell Biology



1987-1991     BA, Biochemistry, University of Oxford

1991-1995     DPhil, University of Oxford

Postdoctoral training:

1995-1997     Research Fellow in Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, USA

Previous Appointments:

1997-2002      Instructor in Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, USA

2003-2014      Assistant Professor of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, USA

2003-2014      Member, Cancer Cell Biology Program, Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, USA

2006-2014      Member, Biological and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, Harvard Medical School, USA


I currently hold a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. Our work is also funded by the BBSRC and, previously, by the National Institutes of Health (USA), the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Association for International Cancer Research/Worldwide Cancer Research.


Our laboratory focuses on cell division, a process that requires a dramatic and highly orchestrated change in cell structure, including the condensation of chromosomes, their alignment on a bipolar spindle, the synchronous movement of exactly half of the chromosomes to opposite poles of the cell, and then cytokinesis (dividing the cell into two).

To accomplish cell division with high fidelity requires tight control of chromosome structure, including the displacement of proteins that might hinder chromosome segregation, and the recruitment of proteins that allow the chromosomes to condense and be “bi-oriented” on the spindle. Through all of this change, the cell also retains markers (“bookmarks”) on chromosomes that can “remember” whether genes are active or inactive so that they can be returned to their original states once cell division is complete. These events must be precisely controlled in location and timing. Our laboratory studies these control mechanisms. In particular, we study how chromatin modifications help determine where and when key regulatory factors can bind to chromosomes.

We are particularly interested in how histone kinases such as Haspin and Aurora B control cell division in human cells, how this process contributes to the generation of cancer and birth defects, and how it can be exploited for disease therapy. In the future, we aim to determine the roles of additional histone modifications in mitosis, to explore their functions in meiosis, and to develop a genome-wide understanding of how these marks are deposited to regulate both chromosome segregation and the inheritance of epigenetic information during cell division.

We are also part of the Cell Division Biology Group within the Institute that includes other laboratories working on various aspects of eukaryotic cell division including the mitotic checkpoint, chromosome segregation in meiosis, the structure and function of the synaptonemal complex, and asymmetric cell division.


MMB8008: Cell Cycle Control and Signalling in Health and Disease

CMB3000: Undergraduate Research Projects

CMB4099: MSci Research Projects