First woman chair of anatomy excited by appointment

Cambridge News

Alistair Ryder

March 14, 2019


The first woman to be elected as chair of anatomy at the University of Cambridge, more than 300 years after the position was created, is settling into her new role.

Ewa Paluch, formerly a professor of cell biophysics at University College London, was honoured at the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists last Wednesday (March 6) for her discoveries in cell biology.

Now in Cambridge, she is excited to create links across university departments to further her boundary-pushing research into how cancerous cells operate.

Her previous findings in cell biology include discovering the formation of cellular structures known as blebs.

Commonly thought to have only existed in sick or dying cells, her team helped discover that they are common within healthy cells, and that they have important functions in cell migration and division.

Her team combines biology and physics to understand how cells regulate their own mechanics, and how these mechanics determine shape in both healthy and disease conditions.

Speaking to the News, Ewa explained the importance of her research, as well as her ground-breaking post at the University of Cambridge, and what this will mean for women in academia.

She said: “My general field is biophysics, but my current position is in biology, and I’m very interested in the intersection of physics and biology.

“In the simplest terms, my current research in cell biology is looking at how different cells are shaped and controlled; irregularly shaped cells spread diseases, and my work is largely to identify the mechanical forces that cause that shape.

“The traditional test was always touching a patient’s body to search for lumps, and we are trying to advance this so it can be immediately identified from the cells.

“Cancer cells use everything in their disposal to spread disease, and it’s crucial that we have more inter-disciplinary approaches to the research surrounding how these cells spread.

“With the way Cambridge University is structured, it’s easy to create links with researchers following different disciplines to help tackle this

“My journey to this field was very indirect. I studied maths and physics in France, and I dreamed of studying the universe, but eventually found this too remote and needed something down to earth.

“I met Dr. Cécile Sykes and was fascinated by her cell deformations research, which led me to a PhD at Institut Curie and Paris Diderot University.”

Now, 19 years after starting this journey, Ewa said it feels great to be the first female chair of the Professor of Anatomy.

She added: “It’s a fantastic honour, and it’s so impressive to see my photo next to the people who have previously held this post.”