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Our Research

The core idea behind the Jack Birch Unit (JBU) is that in order to understand urothelial carcinogenesis and cancer, it is essential to have a detailed understanding of normal tissue. The JBU's research interests focus on bladder cancer as a lesser studied but common cancer. 

The JBU specialises in the use of in vitro approaches to study normal human urothelial cell and cancer biology. The JBU has developed a system where normal human urothelial cells are isolated from surgical samples and propagated as finite cell lines in vitro. These can then be used in a variety of different ways. 

To further help aid the JBU's experimental studies retroviral transduction is used to enable modification of gene expression in cells using overexpression, dominant-negative and shRNA knockdown strategies. This is used alongside reagents to interrupt signal transduction pathways and antibodies to mark differentiation sate. Overall this provides a useful method of studying urothelial tissue development. 

In addition to using these systems to study cancer, we are also using them to study other diseases of the bladder and their use in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.


In vitro - Performing a given procedure in a controlled environment outside of a living organism

Finite cell line - Normal cells usually divide only a limited number of times before losing their ability to proliferate, these cell lines are known as finite cell lines. It is possible to transform them into immortal cell lines so they can divide indefinitely, becoming a continuous cell line

Retroviral transduction - The process by which foreign DNA is introduced into a cell by a virus or viral vector.

Overexpression - Causing overexpression of a gene. By obtaining a large number of target gene products, such as a certain protein. Or can study the biological function of target gene products through gene overexpression, and what the effects of changing levels of them have on the cell.

Dominant-negative - A gene is engineered to produce a mutant protein that prevents the normal copies of the same protein from performing their function.

shRNA knockdown - Artificial RNA molecule with a tight hairpin turn that can be used to silence target gene expression via RNA interference


Research clusters

Research in the Department is organised into clusters, consisting of academic staff and research students, and focusing upon the research areas below.