Emma Shanks - Functional Screening


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The Screening Facility couples genetic and chemical high throughput screening with multiparametric phenotypic image analysis to support translational cancer research. We employ functional genomics (siRNA, shRNA, CRISPR) tools in both pooled and arrayed approaches to support target identification and target validation in multiple types of cancer. Our state-of-the-art image analysis capabilities, including a machine learning module, support identification of a suite of cellular phenotypes in both 2D and 3D environments.

The Head and Neck Cancer Research Group aims to identify novel therapeutic targets for treating non-HPV associated HNSCC, specifically oral squamous cell carcinomas. We focus on target identification and validation using cell lines derived directly from patient tumours, and a suite of in vitro and in vivo techniques. Central to our approach is the multiplexing of functional genomics and drug screening, genomic characterisation and patient data to identify the strongest candidates for clinical progression: development of radiosensitising agents and those effective under hypoxia is a key focus. We are supported by external collaborations with a number of HNSCC radiobiologists, surgeons and oncologists.

Lab Report

icon Functional Screening Report

Key Publications

Shanks E, Ketteler R, Ebner D. Academic drug discovery within the United Kingdom: a reassessment. Nat Rev Drug Discov 14: 510, 2015

Shanks EJ, Ong HB, Robinson DA, Thompson S, Sienkiewicz N, Fairlamb AH, Frearson JA. Development and validation of a cytochrome c-coupled assay for pteridine reductase 1 and dihydrofolate reductase. Analytical Biochemistry 396, 194–203, 2010


Education and qualifications

2004: PhD, Molecular Biology, University of Dundee
2000: BSc (Hons), Neuroscience, University of Sussex


2011-present: Head of Screening, Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, Glasgow
2005-2010: Postdoctoral Screening Scientist, DDU, University of Dundee

Recent Publications


Cairney CJ, Godwin LS, Bilsland AE, Burns S, Stevenson KH, McGarry L, Revie J, Moore JD, Wiggins CM, Collinson RS, Mudd C, Tsonou E, Sadaie M, Bennett DC, Narita M, Torrance CJ, Keith WN. A 'synthetic-sickness' screen for senescence re-engagement targets in mutant cancer backgrounds. PLoS Genet 2017; 13: e1006942

Davidson MA, Shanks EJ. 3q26-29 Amplification in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma: a review of established and prospective oncogenes. FEBS J 2017; 284: 2705-31


Peck B, Schug ZT, Zhang Q, Dankworth B, Jones DT, Smethurst E, Patel R, Mason S, Jiang M, Saunders R, Howell M, Mitter R, Spencer-Dene B, Stamp G, McGarry L, James D, Shanks E, Aboagye EO, Critchlow SE, Leung HY, Harris AL, Wakelam MJO, Gottlieb E, Schulze A. Inhibition of fatty acid desaturation is detrimental to cancer cell survival in metabolically compromised environments. Cancer Metab 2016; 4: 6


Mardilovich K, Baugh M, Crighton D, Kowalczyk D, Gabrielsen M, Munro J, Croft DR, Lourenco F, James D, Kalna G, McGarry L, Rath O, Shanks E, Garnett MJ, McDermott U, Brookfield J, Charles M, Hammonds T, Olson MF. LIM kinase inhibitors disrupt mitotic microtubule organization and impair tumor cell proliferation. Oncotarget 2015. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.6288. Epub 2015 Nov 3

Mardilovich K, Gabrielsen M, McGarry L, Orange C, Patel R, Shanks E, Edwards J, Olson MF. Elevated LIM kinase 1 in non-metastatic prostate cancer reflects its role in facilitating androgen receptor nuclear translocation. Mol Cancer Ther 14: 246-58, 2015

Miller BW, Morton JP, Pinese M, Saturno G, Jamieson NB, McGhee E, Timpson P, Leach J, McGarry L, Shanks E, Bailey P, Chang D, Oien K, Karim S, Au A, Steele C, Carter CR, McKay C, Anderson K, Evans TR, Marais R, Springer C, Biankin A, Erler JT, Sansom OJ. Targeting the LOX/hypoxia axis reverses many of the features that make pancreatic cancer deadly: inhibition of LOX abrogates metastasis and enhances drug efficacy. EMBO Mol Med 7: 1063-76, 2015

Schug ZT, Peck B, Jones DT, Zhang Q, Grosskurth S, Alam IS, Goodwin LM, Smethurst E, Mason S, Blyth K, McGarry L, James D, Shanks E, Kalna G, Saunders RE, Jiang M, Howell M, Lassailly F, Thin MZ, Spencer-Dene B, Stamp G, van den Broek NJ, Mackay G, Bulusu V, Kamphorst JJ, Tardito S, Strachan D, Harris AL, Aboagye EO, Critchlow SE, Wakelam MJ, Schulze A, Gottlieb E. Acetyl-CoA synthetase 2 promotes acetate utilization and maintains cancer cell growth under metabolic stress. Cancer Cell  27: 57-71, 2015

Shanks E, Ketteler R, Ebner D. Academic drug discovery within the United Kingdom: a reassessment. Nat Rev Drug Discov 14: 510, 2015


Jerby-Arnon L, Pfetzer N, Waldman YY, McGarry L, James D, Shanks E, Seashore-Ludlow B, Weinstock A, Geiger T, Clemons PA, Gottlieb E, Ruppin E. Predicting cancer-specific vulnerability via data-driven detection of synthetic lethality. Cell 158: 1199-209, 2014

Shanks EJ. Strategic siRNA screening approaches to target cancer at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute. Comb Chem High Throughput Screen 17: 328-32, 2014

Lab Members

Scientific Officer

Lynn McGarry

Data Manager

Daniel James

PhD Student

Matthew Davidson


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