Nicolai Juul Birkbak
Department of Clinical Medicine - Department of Molecular Medicine (MOMA), Aarhus University
I have a background in cancer biology, biomarker development, translational cancer research and cancer evolution and heterogeneity based on research undertaken at Technical University of Denmark (PhD and postdoc), Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (postdoc), and University College London & the Francis Crick Institute (senior postdoc).
We apply computational approaches to study cancer evolution from a translational perspective. Our mission is to understand cancer evolution at the molecular level, and to build tools and develop methods that use this information to improve patient treatment. An essential question in cancer research today and a focus of our research is understanding the key steps in carcinogenesis: how cells develop from a normal state to malignant cancer through benign, invasive and metastatic disease.
Over recent years, exponential drop in Next Generation Sequencing costs coupled with significant investment in cancer research has led to the creation of large cancer cohorts with extensively characterized tumor samples. This effort has improved our understanding of cancer as a molecular disease, but a focus on driver events has so far not led to a breakthrough in patient therapy, and patient survival has not significantly benefited.
Our lab utilizes cancer NGS data and computational tools to mine the developmental history on individual cancers, and to determine clonality of events. In this manner, we aim to describe the order of carcinogenic events as probabilities that depend on past driver acquisitions. This will allow us to construct evolutionary trajectories for individual cancer types, potentially informing about likely changes malignant cells may be biased towards when subjected to anti-cancer therapy. This opens the door to therapeutic approaches where treatment may be directed towards likely cancer clones not yet observed in a given sample.