Sir Shankar Balasubramanian is the Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and senior group leader at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Institute. He completed his BA in Natural Sciences (1988) and PhD in enzyme Chemistry (1991) both at the University of Cambridge. He was a NATO fellow at the Pennsylvania State University (1992-93), then joined the faculty at the University of Cambridge in 1994. He was knighted in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours in 2017. He was awarded the Royal Medal in 2018 jointly with David Klenerman, the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize jointly with David Klenerman, and the 2022 Breakthrough Prize for Life Sciences jointly with David Klenerman and Pascal Mayer. He is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London (2012), the Academy of Medical Sciences (2011), a member of EMBO (2012), Academia Europaea (2023) and a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (2023).

Research Interests

Our lab seeks to explore and understand the chemistry, structure and function of nucleic acids. To do this we use experimental approaches ranging from chemistry to molecular biology and genomics. We are interested in the incidence and potential causal role(s) of four-stranded DNA secondary structures called G-quadruplexes that form in G-rich regions of the human genome. Current data suggests these secondary structures may mark or regulate the transcriptional status of genes and we are interested in understanding the associated molecular mechanisms. Another area of investigation is the enzyme-mediated, chemical modification of DNA nucleobases in the genome where we are looking to understanding their capacity to differentially recruit proteins and contribute to genome function. While we are problem driven, our research goals have, sometimes incidentally, inspired the development of new methodologies along the way which include next generation DNA sequencing, and methods to sequence DNA modifications and secondary structures.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 14: Chemistry

Secondary Section

Section 21: Biochemistry