A Sutton professor has been knighted in the New Year honours list for his pioneering research into childhood leukaemia.

Professor Greaves, or Sir Mel, as he can now be known, has carried out groundbreaking work to understand the hidden natural history and causes of childhood leukaemia during a 35-year career at The Institute of Cancer Research.

He has also been a pioneer in identifying that cancers undergo a form of Darwinian evolution that leads to drug resistance – an insight which has opened up an exciting new field of cancer research and treatment.

Sir Mel, director of the Centre for Evolution and Cancer, said: “I am honoured, delighted and somewhat bewildered to have received this honour.

“When I started out in cancer research my aim was only ever to understand what was causing leukaemia in children and how this new knowledge could make their lives better.

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Picture by John Angerson/ICR

“It has been a wonderful journey over the last 40 years since I first started studying leukaemia, and I feel very privileged to have been able to contribute towards the unpicking of this once mysterious and lethal disease.

“To gain a knighthood was never remotely in my sights, but I am extremely grateful for the honour and hope it can inspire my many young colleagues as they also look to push back the boundaries of cancer research.”

In 2018, he published a landmark review in Nature Reviews Cancer which pulled together research data from right across his career to propose when, how and why the most common form of childhood leukaemia develops.

He argued that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is caused through a combination of genetic mutation and lack of exposure to common infections at an early age – meaning the disease should, in future, be preventable.

Professor Greaves is now raising money for a new research programme, based at the Sutton site of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), designed to test whether childhood leukaemia can indeed be prevented.

Professor Greaves’ knighthood for services to children’s leukaemia research comes after his receipt of the Royal Society’s prestigious Royal Medal in 2017.