Professor Ingunn Holen BSc MSc PhD

Professor of Bone Oncology

Ingunn Holen

Department of Oncology & Metabolism
The Medical School
Beech Hill Road
S10 2RX

Office: GU24

Tel: +44 (0) 114 215 9011
Fax: +44 (0) 114 271 2475



I studied Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Oslo, Norway, and was awarded my PhD for work on the role of autophagy in cancer in 1995. I went on to join the University of Sheffield as a post-doctoral research associate working on the mechanism of action of bisphosphonates. Under leadership of Prof Robert Coleman I was tasked with establishing a lab research program in breast cancer bone metastasis, gaining a lectureship in 2001 and progressing to Senior Lecturer (2005) and Reader (2009). In 2014 I was appointed as Professor of Bone Oncology.

Research Interests

The research in my team is focussed on tumour cell dissemination in bone, and how this is influenced by the microenvironment in breast and prostate cancer. In particular we use cutting edge technology to study the early stages of bone metastasis and how single cancer cells may remain dormant or start to proliferate when encountering different environments. This work is funded by grants from Weston Park Cancer Charity ( and Against Breast Cancer. ( .You can watch me explain one of our projects here

We work to elucidate the molecular mechanisms involved in tumour cell-bone cell interactions, and how these can be targeted by anti-cancer therapies, including CDK4/6 inhibitors (funded by Breast Cancer Now, We also investigate the role of the microenvironment in driving progression of bone metastases, the effects of female hormones, and how therapeutic agents affect the tumour vasculature.

I have several collaborative projects both with other researchers in the medical school, nationally and internationally. I work closely with the clinical staff on translational research projects, transferring the results from our laboratory projects into clinical feasibility studies. Together with colleagues in Leeds, Glasgow and London I have established a national in vivo tissue bank for breast cancer research funded by an “Infrastructure for Impact” grant awarded by the NC3Rs ( This initiative is entitled SEARCHBreast ( and allows researchers to connect with partners who are willing to share archived material on a collaborative basis thereby not having to carry out in vivo studies. I have been part of a European consortium awarded a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (BONE-NET). Work in my team has been funded by local, regional and national charities, industry, the EU, MRC, CRUK, BCN, YCR and NC3Rs. In 2018, I and my colleague Dr Penelope Ottwell was awarded the “Julie Philipps PhD Studentship” from the charity Second Hope ( to support our work on the biology of secondary breast cancer.

Ingunn Holen & Penny Ottewell

Professional Activities

I am science lead for the Sheffield Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre ( as well as member of the Science Strategy Committee of Breast Cancer Now (BCN), the Tissue Access Committee of the BCN Tissue Bank and the NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship review panel. I am a member of the executive committee that organised the 2018 UK Interdisciplinary Breast Cancer Symposium, that bought together the UK breast cancer research community for a showcase meeting in Manchester. This meeting will be repeated in 2020 when the second UKIBCS meeting will take place in Birmingham.

I am a previous member of the Executive Committee of British Association for Cancer Research (BACR) and serve on a number of international expert review panels and committees.

Journal editorial boards: Anticancer Drugs, Journal of Bone Oncology, Clinical and Experimental Metastasis, Current Cancer Drug Targets and Translational Medicine. 

For a full list of publications please visit myPublications