Posted on 16th May 2024 by Charlotte Ridler

Professor Frances Balkwill elected as Fellow of the Royal Society

Professor Frances Balkwill OBE FMedSci FRS is one of 90 exceptional researchers across the world to be elected this year to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences.

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship made of the world’s most eminent scientists and is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. The Fellows are leaders in their fields and recognised for their invaluable contributions to science. 

Professor Frances Balkwill OBE FMedSci FRS was elected to this year’s cohort of Fellows for her invaluable contributions to cancer and public engagement with science. Fran is a cancer researcher at Queen Mary’s Barts Cancer Institute, where she studies the tumour microenvironment, the dynamic mix of malignant and immune cells, blood vessels and other ostensibly normal cells found in most cancers. 

She is a pioneer of research into cancer-related inflammation and the tumour microenvironment and has made paradigm-shifting discoveries on the role of cytokines in cancer promotion that led to clinical trials. 

Fran is also a leader in public engagement in science. In her early career, when her children asked what she did for a living, she went to look for children’s books about cells that she could read to her children. She couldn’t find any, so wrote them herself.  

Professor Frances Balkwill OBE FMedSci FRS
Professor Frances Balkwill OBE FMedSci FRS

She has now written twelve and edited a further six children’s science books with graphic designer Mic Rolph. Approximately 500,000 books have been printed with ten foreign editions. She received the 2006 Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize, an annual award that recognises a scientist or engineer whose expertise in communicating scientific ideas in lay terms is exemplary. 

STEM Pod at Centre of the Cell - a state-of-the-art immersive science experience featuring films, gaming and learning.
STEM Pod at Centre of the Cell - a state-of-the-art immersive science experience featuring films, gaming and learning.

She founded and directs Centre of the Cell, an informal biomedical science education centre based at Queen Mary’s Whitechapel campus. It is the first science Centre to be located within a research laboratory and has had nearly 250,000 participants since its creation in 2009.

Centre of the Cell seeks to positively impact on educational, career and health choices of young people and families within our East London community and beyond through workshops and shows in its iconic STEM Pod and Neuron Pod, as well as with outreach, mentoring and volunteering opportunities. The digital interactive STEM Pod underwent a £550,000 refurbishment in 2023 with major investments from Queen Mary and LifeArc, a leading UK medical research charity.

“I am just so excited and hugely honoured to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. I hope that I can use my Fellowship to continue to educate and engage people with the world of science.” 

— Professor Fran Balkwill

Professor Sir Mark Caulfield, Vice Principal of Health, Queen Mary University of London, said: 

“I am absolutely delighted that Fran has been elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. Fran has made major strides in cancer research, but her achievements go far beyond that. She has made a positive impact on countless people she’s worked with and mentored, children visiting Centre of the Cell, as well as readers of her books. A huge congratulations to Fran from all of us at the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.” 

Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society and former Principal of Queen Mary (1998-2008), said:  

“I am pleased to welcome such an outstanding group into the Fellowship of the Royal Society. 

Professor Balkwill featured in the Science Museum's recent 'Cancer Revolution' exhibition.
Professor Balkwill featured in the Science Museum's recent 'Cancer Revolution' exhibition.

“This new cohort has already made significant contributions to our understanding of the world around us and continue to push the boundaries of possibility in academic research and industry.  

“From visualising the sharp rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution to leading the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, their diverse range of expertise is furthering human understanding and helping to address some of our greatest challenges. 

“It is an honour to have them join the Fellowship.” 

Category: General News, Grants & Awards

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