WICB Early Career Medal Winner 2024: Alexis Barr

Women in Cell Biology Early Career Medal Winner 2024

Alexis Barr

Alexis Barr is a CRUK Career Development Fellow and MRC Investigator at the MRC-LMS and Institute of Clinical Sciences, Imperial College London. She received her PhD from the CRUK Cambridge Institute in the lab of Dr Fanni Gergely investigating centrosomal functions in vertebrate cells. After her PhD, she moved to the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) to the team of Prof. Chris Bakal. It was at the ICR that she began to work on the mechanisms that control entry into the cell cycle. She adopted a quantitative, single-cell imaging approach in order to follow these events in real-time and started to collaborate with Bela Novak at the University of Oxford to understand these events at a systems-wide level. These approaches allowed her to understand the mechanisms controlling a switch-like G1-S transition (Barr et al., 2016) and how replication stress in the mother cell can influence the fate of the daughter cells (Barr*, Heldt*, Cooper* et al., 2017).

In September 2018, Alexis was awarded a CRUK CDF to establish her own research team. Her lab aims to understand the mechanisms that control cell cycle entry and exit in human cells and use that information to manipulate cancer cell proliferation for better cancer treatment. In addition to combining gene-editing and fluorescent reporter generation with quantitative, single-cell imaging, they also use image-based screens, quantitative proteomics and phospho-proteomics and collaborate with chemists, mathematicians and bioinformaticians to use a wide range of the tools available to answer their research questions. Most recently, they have generated key insights into how CDK4/6 inhibitors can promote long-term anti-proliferative effects in patients (Crozier*, Foy*, Adib* et al., 2023; Barr & Pennycook 2022). While CDK4/6 inhibitors block cell proliferation, they do not block cell growth and arrested cells continue to grow to an abnormal size during cell cycle arrest. This cell overgrowth drives cellular senescence, mediating the long-term anti-proliferative effects of these drugs. This work has prompted her team to address more broadly how quiescent cells maintain proliferative potential and are prevented from entering senescence.

Beyond her research, Alexis has been instrumental in establishing a Roving Researcher scheme at the MRC-LMS, with her colleagues Michelle Percharde and Toby Warnecke. This scheme provides cover for Postdocs on long-term leave, including parental leave, and aims to tackle the leaky pipeline of women leaving academia during their Postdocs. She is also Co-Director of Postgraduate studies at the MRC-LMS and is a mentor for the Social Mobility Foundation

Alexis will be awarded the WICB Medal and give a talk about her research during the 90th Harden Conference joint BSCB/Biochemical Society co-organised meeting cell migration meeting which will be held on 15-18 April 2024 at Birmingham, UK

The WICB Early Career Medal was established in 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the BSCB. It is an annual honour awarded to an outstanding female cell biologist who has started her own research group in the UK within the last seven years.