skip to content

Early Cancer Institute

  • Professor of Genomic Medicine and Bioinformatics
  • CRUK Advanced Clinician Scientist
  • Honorary Consultant in Clinical Genetics


Serena qualified in medicine from the University of Cambridge in 2000. She undertook a PhD at the Wellcome Sanger Institute (WSI) in 2009 exploring breast cancer using whole genome sequencing (WGS). She demonstrated how detailed downstream analyses of all mutations present in WGS breast cancers could reveal mutation signatures, imprints left by mutagenic processes that have occurred through cancer development. In particular, she identified a novel phenomenon of localised hypermutation termed “kataegis”.

Serena was awarded a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellowship in 2013. She joined the Sanger Institute faculty team in 2014 and continued to develop particular expertise in the analysis and interpretation of WGS tumours. Apart from using computational approaches, she also studies mutational signatures experimentally using cell-based model systems. Serena ran a clinical project, Insignia, recruiting patients with DNA repair/replication defects, aging syndromes and neurodegeneration, and people who have been exposed to environmental/occupational mutagens, to gain biological insights into mutational phenomena in these patients. Serena moved to the Department of Medical Genetics in 2017 in order to accelerate the translation of her genomics expertise towards clinical applications and to further her work into the physiological mechanisms underpinning mutagenesis.


The Nik-Zainal lab studies the physiology of mutagenesis combining computational approaches with experimental and cancer data. We also seek clinical validity of our observations. We are a diverse group of individuals and are interested in hearing from anyone interested in joining the academic laboratory or clinical/genomic infrastructure team.