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Department of Genetics



Dr Ben Hall is a computational biologist in the MRC Cancer Unit. He leads a program on “Modelling the decision processes of cancer”, where his team develop computational models of the earliest stages of cancer progression, with a particular focus on the use of executable models and formal verification. He holds a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, and work in his group is funded by the MRC, Microsoft Research, and the Royal Society.

Prior to his current position he worked with Dr Jasmin Fisher at Microsoft, constructing executable models of organ development in C. elegans and developing tools for formal verification in biology. He continues to collaborate with Dr Fisher in the ongoing development and maintenance of the BioModelAnalyzer. He completed his DPhil and previous post-doctoral positions in molecular modelling at Oxford and UCL.

Research Profile

Modelling the Decision Making Processes of Cancer

There are ~37 000 000 000 000 cells in the adult human body, yet only 1 in 2 adults develop cancers in their lifetime. When you consider the number of opportunities cells in the body have to develop into cancer, the chances of any single cell becoming a cancer are incredibly small. My research uses the same advanced computational techniques which are used to find software bugs in order to understand how the series of errors can occur that eventually lead to cancer development.
To find bugs which rarely occur, computer scientists convert complex software into a simplified form. These computational representations can then be tested to ask broad questions such as- "does this behavior ever happen?" or "do all calculations end with the same result?". I use the same techniques and concepts to address problems in cancer biology. By using a simplified representation of cell communication and decision making processes, I can show how mutations change the cell, and show why some orders are dangerous whilst others are not.
This work could lead to unique insights into cancer evolution, and by testing new ideas with simulation, may enrich the experimental programmes of collaborators. It can also identify new problems in computer science, thereby driving the discovery of algorithms required to solve them. My group also maintains a long standing interest in model systems, specifically C. elegans development and bacterial signalling, and has recently been thinking about the broad issue of reproducibility in computational sciences.

Research Group Links


Key publications: 

Michael Hall, Philip H Jones, Benjamin A HallRelating evolutionary selection and mutant clonal dynamics in normal epithelia Journal of the Royal Society: Interface, 16(156) 2019 DOI:10.1101/480756

Kasumi Murai, Greta Skrupskelyte, Gabriel Piedrafita, Michael Hall, Vasiliki Kostiou, Swee Hoe Ong, Tibor Nagy, Alex Cagan, David Goulding, Allon M Klein, Benjamin A Hall, Philip H Jones Pre-cancer: how p53 mutant progenitors colonize normal epidermis Cell Stem Cell 23(5)/2018 DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2018.08.017

David Shorthouse, Angela Riedel, Emma Kerr, Luisa Pedro, Dóra Bihary, Shamith Samarajiwa, Carla P. Martins, Jacqueline Shields, Benjamin A. Hall Exploring the role of stromal osmoregulation in cancer and disease using executable modelling Nature Communications volume 9, Article number: 3011 (2018) DOI:10.1038/s41467-018-05414-y

Yasmin Z. Paterson, David Shorthouse, Markus W. Pleijzier, Nir Piterman, Claus Bendtsen , Benjamin A. Hall*, Jasmin Fisher* A toolbox for discrete modelling of cell signaling dynamics Integrative Biology 6/2018 

Angela Riedel, David Shorthouse, Lisa Haas, Benjamin A Hall*, Jacqueline Shields*: Tumor-induced stromal reprogramming drives lymph node transformation. Nature Immunology 07/2016; 17(9)., DOI:10.1038/ni.3492

Affiliated Lecturer - Royal Society University Research Fellow, MRC Cancer Unit
Email address: 
MRC Cancer Unit
University of Cambridge
Hutchison/MRC Research Centre
Box 197, Cambridge Biomedical Campus
Cambridge CB2 0XZ