Faculty of Medical Sciences

Staff Profile

Dr Ian Cowell

Staff Scientist



BSc and PhD from London University. Based in Newcastle from 1993 to 1998 and from 2003 to present and in Edinburgh from 1998 to 2003.


BSc (London, 1982)
PhD (London, 1989)

Previous Positions

May 2003 - May 2006
Research Associate, NICR, Newcastle University.

Nov 1998 – Feb 2003
Senior Research Associate, Roslin Institute (Edinburgh).

Jan 1997 - Nov 1998
Senior Research Associate, Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, Newcastle University.

Jan 1993 - Jan 1997
Wellcome Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, Newcastle University.

Oct 1989 - Jan 1993
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Imperial Cancer Research Fund Molecular Oncology Unit, Hammersmith Hospital, London.

Jan 1986 Oct 1989
Research Assistant, Biochemistry Department, University College and Middlesex School of Medicine.

Jan 1983 Jan 1986
Research Technician, Immunology Department, St George's Hospital Medical School, University of London.

Google Scholar: Click here.

Informal Interests



Research Interests

My research interests fall into the areas of vertebrate gene regulation, nuclear organization and function and DNA repair in particular relating to DNA topoisomerase II. This is currently focussed on the following themes:

-Events leading to chromosomal translocation in leukaemia.

-Can standard cancer therapies by modified to avoid serious short and long-term side effects?

-Targeting DNA-repair proteins as a means on improving the efficacy of anti-cancer treatments


Other recent research falls into the following areas
-Histone modifications, including methylation and acetylation and changes in chromatin/nuclear organisation associated with DNA damage.
-Histone lysine methylation and the function of chromo-domain proteins.

Other Expertise

My areas of research expertise include:
- Fluorescence microscopy including quantitative and qualitative immunofluorescence, DNA FISH and 3D RNA FISH.
- Cell toxicity and growth inhibition assays (eg Clonogenic and XTT assays).
- Culture and manipulation of murine and human embryonic stem cells as well as other general cell biology techniques including siRNA knockdown.
- Antibody purification and other protein biochemical techniques.
- Molecular cloning techniques including the design and assembly of expression and other DNA constructs.
- General bioinformatics and IT expertise – this is currently increasing as we do more next-gen sequencing work.

Current Work

DNA topoisomerase poisons such as etoposide are commonly used and effective anticancer drugs that introduce a type of DNA damage involving covalent topoisomerase DNA (TOP2) adducts. This DNA damage underlies the cytotoxic anti-cancer activity of these agents, but is also responsible for short and long-term side effects including myelosuppression and therapy-related secondary leukaemia. We have recently shown one isoform of TOP2 is predominantly responsible for genotoxic damage leading to chromosome translocations and leukaemia and we are interested in ways to minimize genotoxic DNA damage to avoid these secondary leukaemias. In a second strand we are testing ways of protecting haematopoietic precursor cells from excess cytotoxic effects of TOP2 poisons with the aim of minimising myelosuppression following cytotoxic cancer therapy. In addition to these clinically leaning projects, we have an interest in the repair and processing of TOP2-DNA covalent complexes that are induced by TOP2 poisons, and in the role of TOP2 in signal induced gene activation and genome stability.


Undergraduate Teaching

I contribute to 3rd year modules BMS3012 "Cancer Biology and Therapy" and BGM3024 "The Molecular Basis of Cancer", and BGM3065 "Biochemistry of Cancer and Chronic Diseases" delivering lectures on carcinogenesis, apoptosis, DNA repair mechanisms and genome instability in cancer.

Postgraduate Teaching

PhD student supervision:

I am currently supervising three Postgraduate students.

Past postgraduate students:

2013-2017: Myeloperoxidase enhances DNA damage induced by drugs targeting DNA topoisomerase II. Student, Mandeep Atwal

2008-2012: The potential role of TOP2B in therapy related leukaemia. Student, Kayleigh Smith

2004-2007: Characterisation of DNA damage induced nuclear foci containing PML and TopBP1. Student, Nicola Sunter.


2016-2017: MRes project: Ligand Mediated Transcriptional Regulation by TOP2B. Student, Emma Lishman

2014-2015: MSci Project: Investigating the individual roles of TOP2A and TOP2B in DNA damage induced by TOP2 poisons at the PML locus.

2012-2013: MSci project: Does CTCF contribute to chromosome translocations in leukaemia?


2017-2018: Myeloperoxidase inhibitors: repurposing novel anti-inflammatory drugs to protect bone marrow after chemotherapy. Student, Bilal Christi

MSc research project supervision:
The Ki-67 protein interacts with members of the heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1) family: a potential role in the regulation of higher-order chromatin structure (1992). Student, Sjak van der Saar(In my previous post at the Roslin Institute).