"Although I derive enormous personal and professional satisfaction from the exciting challenge of this work, I have never forgotten the tragic and frustrating circumstances that first compelled me to devote my life to this field of research. One of my most important priorities is to provide hope and support for children with brain tumors and their families."

- Dr. Richard J. Gilbertson


Professor Richard J. Gilbertson trained as a pediatric oncologist in the UK where he earned his MB.BS. and Ph.D. degrees, becoming a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1995. He moved to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, TN, USA in 2000 where he served as the Co-Leader of the Neurobiology and Brain Tumor Program and founding Director of the Molecular Clinical Trials Core before being appointed as the Comprehensive Cancer Center Director, Executive Vice President, and Lillian R. Cannon Endowed Chair in 2011. In 2014, he was appointed as the Scientific Director of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In August 2015, he moved back home to England where he now serves as the Li Ka-shing Chair of Oncology, Head of Dept. of Oncology and Director of the Cambridge Cancer Centre at Cambridge University. His laboratory research is focused on understanding the link between normal development and the origins of cancer, particularly brain tumors. His lab was the first to describe a cancer stem cell niche; demonstrate that a solid cancer can arise from tissue specific stem cells; use innovative cross-species genomics to trace the developmental origins of pediatric brain tumors; and to use whole genome sequencing to identify novel subgroup-specific mutations in medulloblastoma and ependymoma. His research has been translated into numerous diagnostic tests and innovative clinical trials for children with cancer.

Academic Appointments

  • Cambridge Cancer Centre, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
    • Director, Cambridge Cancer Centre, University of Cambridge, 2015-present
    • Li Ka-Shing Chair of Oncology, Cambridge Cancer Centre, 2015-present
    • Head, Department of Oncology, Cambridge Cancer Centre, 2015-present
    • Senior Group Leader, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Institute, 2015-present
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
    • Scientific Director, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 2014-2015
    • Director, Executive Vice President, and Lillian R. Cannon Endowed Chair, Comprehensive Cancer Center, 2011-2014
    • Founding Director, Molecular Clinical Trials Core, Departments of Developmental Neurobiology and Oncology, 2011-2014
    • Director, Division of Brain Tumor Research, Co-Leader, Neurobiology & Brain Tumor Program, Departments of Developmental Neurobiology and Oncology, 2003-2011
    • Professor, 2008
    • Associate Professor, 2004
    • Assistant Professor, 2000
    • Pediatric Oncologist, 2000 - 2015

About DSA-Funded Research

Although ependymomas are the third most common brain tumor of childhood, virtually nothing is known about the biology of the disease. Indeed, less than 2% of the 2,300 brain tumor research studies published in the last year involved ependymoma. Consequently, treatment options for this disease are limited and the majority of children who develop ependymoma will die. Recently, certain cancers were shown to arise from corrupted human stem cells. These observations have revolutionized the field of cancer biology, since new treatments designed to attack these cells would devastate tumor growth. In this proposal, we will identify and characterize the ependymoma tumor stem cell. To do this we will use state-of-the-art technology to divide human ependymomas into groups of cells that do or do not express human stem cell markers. We will then measure the stem cell activity of these different cell groups by assessing their ability to form tumors in the brains of mice, proliferate indefinitely and give rise to mixed populations of tumor cells. ERBB2 and ERBB4 oncogenes are highly expressed in ependymoma and drugs that target these proteins are already in clinical use. Therefore we will study the function of these genes in ependymoma stem cells and test the ability of anti-ERBB2 drugs to stop ependymoma stem cells from forming tumors. Finally, we will use microarray gene chip technology to identify completely new genes that are important for ependymoma stem cell growth and survival and may therefore act as drug targets. These studies will dramatically increase knowledge of this important childhood tumor and identify new treatments for clinical trial.


"It was clear from the quality of [his] work that Dr. Gilbertson had the potential to make seminal contributions to the field of pediatric brain tumors... Along with his exceptional personal character and integrity... I have always been impressed with his clarity of thought and his ability to initiate, plan, coordinate and efficiently complete research projects. I firmly believe that Dr. Gilbertson's research program will have a profound effect on the way we treat children with these terrible diseases."

Amar Gajjar, M.D.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis

"Dr. Gilbertson demonstrated consistent dedication, care and concern regarding his work. His approach to clinical questions and his ability to bring to bear high quality scientific analysis to answer these was extremely impressive. Dr. Gilbertson is also a skilled physician who is highly respected by clinical colleagues. His compassionate approach to children with cancer and their families was also very notable."

Dr. ADJ Pearson
Sir James Spence Institute Royal Victoria Infirmary, UK

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