Professor Valerie Speirs

Professor Valerie Speirs
Professor Valerie Speirs
Professor Valerie Speirs

BSc (Hons), PhD, FRCPath, FHEA

Chair in Molecular Oncology

Accepting PhDs

Email Address
Office Address


Institute of Medical Sciences

4.32 (office) / 4.42 (lab)

Aberdeen AB25 2ZD

School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition


Prof Valerie Speirs is Chair in Molecular Oncology. Following postdoctoral spells at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, and the universities of Liverpool and Hull, she started her independent research career at the University of Hull, before moving to Leeds. She obtained a Personal Chair in Experimental Pathology & Oncology at the University of Leeds in 2012, relocating to her alma mater in July 2018 and is visiting Professor at Leeds.

As a cancer biologist, she focuses mainly on breast cancer but has growing interest in glioblastoma and uses digital pathology in her work. Past/current funding includes: Cancer Research UK, MRC, NC3Rs, Yorkshire Cancer Research, Breast Cancer Now, Breast Cancer UK, Animal Free Research UK, Pathological Society and Friends of Anchor.

As part of a consortium which recognised that scientists required access to human breast tissue to help accelerate research, she helped establish the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank ( She leads the Aberdeen centre and is co-PI nationally. She established SEARCHBreast, a virtual resource aimed at sharing materials which are often surplus following animal studies on breast cancer, thus reducing the numbers of animals used in research (

Ongoing work includes establishing the Aberdeen Cancer Centre, bringing together a team of scientists and clinicians working collaboratively to deliver patient-centred research. This bench to bedside approach aims to translate new laboratory findings into the clinic with the goal of directly improving patient outcomes.

Outside of work she enjoys spending time hiking in the beautiful Aberdeenshire countryside.


  • BSc Zoology 
    1986 - University of Aberdeen 
  • PhD Cancer Biology 
    1990 - University of Glasgow 

Memberships and Affiliations

Internal Memberships

Research Committee, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition

Education Steering Committee, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition


External Memberships

Honorary Secretary, British Association for Cancer Research

Chair, Meetings & Training Committee, British Association for Cancer Research

Member, British Breast Group

Member, Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank Advisory Council

Member, National Cancer Research Institute’s Cellular Molecular Pathology (CM-Path)

Chair, CM-Path consenting subgroup 

Member, Pathological Society of Great Britain & Ireland

Member British & European Associations for Cancer Research

Latest Publications

View My Publications

Prizes and Awards


  • Breast Cancer Now award for Outstanding Contribution to Breast Cancer Research (2011)

As project supervisor

  • BACR – Hamilton-Fairley Young Investigator Award at the 10th NCRI Cancer Conference, Liverpool, 2-5 2014 for presentation entitled: ‘Insulin like Growth Factor Binding Proteins and Tamoxifen Resistance in Breast Cancer’, Y Hawsawi, C Twelves, V Speirs, J Beattie
  • Journal of Pathology Prize at the Pathological Society of GB & Ireland annual conference, Edinburgh, June 18-21, 2013 for presentation entitled: ‘Developing and Characterising a Novel 3D in vitro Model of Normal Breast for Cancer Initiation Studies’, C Nash, D Holliday, G Mavria, D Tomlinson, A Hanby, F Berditchevski, V Speirs
  • British Journal of Surgery Prize at the Association of Breast Surgery annual conference, Manchester, 21 May 2013, for presentation entitled: ‘The Prognostic Significance of Tumour-Stromal Ratio in Oestrogen Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer’, CL Downey, SA Simpkins, J White, DL Holliday, JL Jones, LB Jordan, SS Rajan, HH Thygesen, S Pollock, AM Hanby, V Speirs

Research Overview

Research in my group focuses mainly on investigating the biology of breast cancer, using tissue-based approaches to understand the disease and its progression. We study biomarkers and how these might influence clinical outcome, oestrogen receptor biology (in particular the regulation and expression of oestrogen receptor β) and are exploring the breast cancer microenvironment, notably tumour-stroma interactions, and how this might be influenced by endocrine disrupting agents, including oestrogenic substances found in the environment. We use a range of tools to address this, including bepsoke 3D cell culture models, digital pathology, Raman spectrocopy and fast-field cycling MRI.

Breast cancer affects both genders and we have a long-standing interest in male breast cancer, having accrued one of the largest collections in the world, available as tissue microarrays.

We have developed several 3D in vitro models of breast cancer and continue to improve these to use as tools in our research.

Our lab is on the same campus as the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, which allows us direct access to clinical samples to use in our work. As a results we work closely with clinicians, including pathologists, surgeons, radiologist, oncologists and often host medical students for intercalated or summer projects.



Research Areas

Accepting PhDs

I am currently accepting PhDs in Biomedical Sciences.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your research ideas further.

Email Me

Biomedical Sciences

Accepting PhDs

Current Research

Functional modelling of male breast cancer (UoA Development Trust & Elphinstone scholarship)

Examining how components of the breast cancer microenvironment influence cancer cells (Elphinstone scholarship)

Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank and Cell Culture Programme (coPI with JL Jones, QMUL/Barts; Breast Cancer Now)

Fully humanised 3D vascular perfused model for breast cancer modelling and therapeutic screening (NC3Rs)

Investigating a new approach to treeing metastatic bone disease: radiotherapy first? (with A Rieman et al; NHS Grampian)

Public Engagement in Pathology (Pathological Society of GB & Ireland)

Examining how endocrine disrupting agents may modulate activity of fibroblasts generated from breast tissue of high and low mammographic density (Animal Free Research UK & Breast Cancer UK)

Elucidating the role of ROCKII in angiogenesis and the microenvironment of breast cancer brain metastases using genetic deletion approaches. (with G Mavria, Leeds; Breast Cancer Now).

Developing an organ on a chip model to test the therapeutic efficiency of Adhirons in breast cancer (NC3Rs)

Past Research

Projects completed in the last 10 years include:

Developing Adhirons as new research tools to help understand the role of estrogen receptor β in breast cancer (funded by Breast Cancer Now)

SEARCHbreast - a virtual resource to facilitate sharing breast cancer materials and knowledge to benefit the 3Rs (funded by NC3Rs)

Exploiting male breast carcinoma transcriptomics to identify new prognostic, predictive or therapeutic targets (funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research)

Characterising the breast cancer proteome using multicellular 3D breast cancer models: a feasibility study. (funded by Breast Cancer Now)

Identification of protein biomarkers for basal-like breast cancer (funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research)

Elucidating the role of DOCK4 in tumour angiogenesis and brain metastasis using genetic deletion approaches and mouse models of human cancer (funded by Breast Cancer Now)

Exploring the function of ERβ2 in breast cancer at different sub-cellular locations (funded by Pathological Society of GB & Ireland)

Stratified Medicine Programme (funded by Cancer Research UK)

The role of miR-92 in regulating breast cancer behaviour (funded by Breast Cancer Now)

Application of the 3Rs to breast cancer: Validating novel 3-dimensional in vitro models of breast cancer as a replacement for animal experiments. (funded by Lord Dowding Fund)

Molecular profiling of breast cancers of different ethnicity. (funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research)

Investigating fibroblasts as mediators of breast tumour progression using 3D models (funded by Breast Cancer Now)

Validation and computer reconstruction of a 3D model of breast cancer (funded by Dr Hadwen Trust)


Prof Louise Jones, Barts Cancer  Institute, London

Dr Georgia Mavria, University of Leeds

Dr Laura Matthews, University ofLeeds

Dr Darren Tomlinson, University of Leeds

Prof Cathy Merry, University of Nottingham


My current supervision areas are: Biomedical Sciences.

Current PhD students

Kerri Palmer: Examining how endocrine disrupting agents may modulate activity of fibroblasts generated from breast tissue of high and low mammographic density

Katie Hanna: Exploring the breast tumour microenviroment using digital pathology, Raman imagingand fast field cycling MRI

Subarnerekha Chatterji: Understanding the biology of male breast cancer: a data driven approach


Previous PhD/MD students


Sophie Roberts: Generating a 3D cell culture model to test the efficacy of Affimers in the inhibition of HER2+ breast cancer cell growth (writing up PhD)

Aishah Alhodhodi: Oestrogen receptor (ER) expression and activity during osteogenic differentiation of dental pulp stem cells. PhD awarded 2018 (returned to dental practice, Saudi Arabia)

Mohammed Elmoursi: Structural and functional characterisation of placental syncytial nuclear aggregates in healthy and high-risk pregnancy. PhD awarded 2017 (returned to higher medical training, Scotland)

E Smart: The functional role of ERβ2 at different cellular locations. PhD awarded 2016 (now Postdoc, USA)

S Rajan: Investigating male breast cancer using transcriptomics and immunohistochemistry. MD awarded 2016 (returned to higher surgical training, North West Deanery)

Y Hawsawi: Role of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) axis in the acquisition of tamoxifen resistance in breast cancer epithelial cells. PhD awarded 2015 (associate scientist, Saudi Arabia)

W Hamilton-Burke: The role of ERβ and associated proteins in breast cancer. MD awarded 2015 (now Consultant Breast Surgeon, Huddersfield)

C Nash: Development of an organotypic model of the normal breast: A tool to investigate breast cancer initiation and progression. PhD awarded 2014 (now Senior Scientist, Charles River Laboratories)

M Charalambous: Investigating the metabolism of breast cancer cells using 1H-NMR based metabonomics. MD awarded 2013 (now Consultant Breast Surgeon, London)

W Yabsley: NMR–based metabolomic studies: towards a biomarker for breast cancer. PhD awarded 2013

H Al-Nakhale: Mechanisms of estrogen receptor β regulation in breast cancer. PhD awarded 2010 (Lecturer, Saudi Arabia)

L Maraqa: Characterisation of novel genes associated with endocrine resistance. MD awarded 2010 (now Consultant Breast Surgeon, Sheffield)

MB Peter: The prognostic significance of estrogen receptor β and its isoforms and correlation with other biological markers in breast cancer. MD awarded 2010 (now Consultant GI Surgeon, Huddersfield)

M Saleh: Characterisation of the role of CSMD1 in cancer. PhD awarded 2010 (now Postdoc, USA)

CA Green: Further defining the role of ERβ in the mammary gland. PhD awarded 2009 (now Biomedical Scientist, Leeds)

AM Waterworth: Investigating the role of fibroblasts, β-catenin and Wnt signalling in neoplastic transformation. MD awarded 2006 (now Consultant Breast Surgeon, Huddersfield)

K Munot: Gene silencing in breast cancer: is there evidence for an epigenetic phenotype? MD awarded 2005 (now Consultant Breast Surgeon, York)

AT Parkes: The role of estrogen receptor and their associated coregulators in the development of antiestrogen resistance in breast cancer. PhD awarded 2004 (now Clincal Trials Coordinator, Australia)



AR Green: Regulatory factors in human breast cancer: Cytokines and 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase.

PhD awarded 1997 (now Associate Professor, University of Nottingham)

Funding and Grants

Grants awarded (from 2015)

2019-24 Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank and cell culture Programme. Breast Cancer Now £7M (coPI with JL Jones, QMUL/Barts; Aberdeen component ~£300 000)

2019-21 Fully humanised 3D vascular perfused model for breast cancer modelling and therapeutic screening. NC3Rs, £74 999

2019-20 Investigating a new approach to treating metastatic bone disease: radiotherapy first? NHS Grampian, £12 000 (with A Rieman et al)

2019 Animal Free Research UK vacation scholarship, £2000

2019 Friends of Anchor vacation scholarship, £2000

2019 Sponsorship of BACR Special Conference on Breast Cancer. Pathological Society of GB & Ireland, £3000

2018-21 Examining how endocrine disrupting agents may modulate activity of fibroblasts generated from breast tissue of high and low mammographic density (PhD studentship). Animal Free Research UK/Breast Cancer UK (jointly funded), £90 000

2017-20 The MUC-ST/Singlec-9 innate check point axis in cancer: prevalence, prognostic significance and potential therapeutics. MRC, £275 000 (with J Burchell, KCL)

2017-20 Elucidating the role of ROCKII in angiogenesis and the microenvironment of breast cancer brain metastases using genetic deletion approaches. Breast Cancer Now, £238 080 (with G Mavria Leeds et al).

2016-19 Developing an organ on a chip model to test the therapeutic efficiency of Adhirons in breast cancer. NC3Rs, £90 000

2016 Dr Hadwen Trust  vacation scholarship, £2000

2015-17 Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank (Leeds). Breast Cancer Campaign, £1.1M

2015-18 Identification of biomarkers that predict recurrence of DCIS after breast conserving surgery from the Sloane Project. Breast Cancer Now, £238 080 (with E Sawyer KCL et al)


Teaching Responsibilities


PA3802: Mechanisms of Disease & Principles of Chemotherapy

BC4314:  Biochemistry Option 2



MB5525: MRes Extended Research Project

MB5903: MSc Research Project

Non-course Teaching Responsibilities

Postgraduate Research Development Coordinator


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