About Us

The Steroid Metabolism in Cancer Research Group, led by Dr. Paul Foster and based at the University of Birmingham, primarily focuses on the role of oestrogens and androgens in endocrine cancers, such as that of the colon, adrenal, breast, prostate, and ovaries.

Dr. Paul A. Foster
Lecturer in Cancer Endocrinology

Our group investigates how the dysregulation of steroid metabolism impacts disease. We have a particular interest in steroid sulphation/desulphation pathways and we aim to determine their importance in regulating steroid action in normal physiology, malignancies, and inflammatory disease. Furthermore, the group has a strong background in drug development, and thus we are identifying targets within steroid pathways ripe for therapeutic intervention. We also have links with various emerging pharmaceutical companies with compound pipelines targeted against steroidogenic enzymes. These links provide key support to the group and are destined to continue in the coming years.


We have particular research interests in:


1) defining oestrogenic influence of colorectal cancer proliferation,

2) delineating the regulators of oestrogen metabolism in normal and cancerous tissue,

3) Identifying novel inhibitors of steroid sulphatase, a fundamental enzyme in oestrogen/androgen metabolism.



Translational Research


Our research has defined a novel targetable pathway coupling greater oestrogen desulphation with non-genomic oestrogen signalling in colorectal cancer. These results have the potential to change current clinical practice with regards the management of oestrogen treatments, particularly hormone-replacement therapy, in patients at risk or suffering from colorectal inflammation or cancer. Furthermore, continued definition of sulphation/desulphation pathways and oestrogen/androgen metabolism lends itself to numerous therapeutic targets against cancer. Of significant interest are the enzymes steroid sulphatase, a key regulator of oestrogen and androgen metabolism, and the G-protein coupled oestrogen receptor GPR30.

Other Academic Activities

Associate Editor: Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2018 - Present)

Editorial Board: Endocrine Connections (2012 - Present)

Editorial Board: BMC Cancer (2017 - Present)

Society for Endocrinology: Public Engagement Committee member (2011 - 2015)

Society for Endocrinology: Working Website Committee member (2011 - 2015)

Associate Editor: The Endocrinologist (2012 - 2016)




Teaching Leadership

Module Lead: Cell Communication, Endocrinology, and Pharmacology (MBcHB)

Deputy Module Lead: Digestion, Renal, Endocrinology (BDS)


National & International Collaborative links

Prof. Barry Potter (Professor of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry - University of Oxford)

Prof. Wiebke Arlt (Professor of Medicine - University of Birmingham)

Prof. Dion Morton (Professor of Surgery - University of Birmingham)

Dr Liam Cox (Reader of Medicinal Chemistry - University of Birmingham)

Dr Claire Simons (Reader - University of Cardiff)

Dr Marc-Henry Pitty (CEO - Oregon Therapeutics Ltd., France)

Dr Gregoire Prevost (CEO - CIPREVO Ltd., France)

Prof. Sudha Sundar (Prof. in Gynaecological Oncology - University of Birmingham)

Dr Ulrike Grienke (University of Vienna)

Dr Mohammad El-Gamal (University of Sharjah, UAE)

Dr Douglas Gibson (Senior Research Fellow - University of Edinburgh)

Dr Karl Storbeck (Steollenbosch University - South Africa)

Dr Cristina Ronchi (Clinical Consultant - University of Birmingham)

Dr Jonathan Mueller (Lecturer in Endocrine Biochemistry - University of Birmingham)

Dr David Jeevan
Ph.D student (Wellbeing of Women, CRTF)

David Jeevan is a Wellbeing of Women Clinical Research Fellow in Gynaecology Oncology. He is also a Senior Registrar (ST6) in Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

David is carrying out research on steroid metabolism in ovarian cancer. Using mass spectrometry, he is investigating how steroids are involved in the progression of ovarian tumours and is aiming to develop proof of concept for a steroid test for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer.  David is delighted that the Wellbeing of Women has chosen to fund a project in this field of gynaecological cancer.

1 in 3 women with ovarian cancer in the UK die within the first year after diagnosis. Regrettably, over 10% of UK women with ovarian cancer actually never receive any treatment because they are too ill by the time they are diagnosed.

Research shows that women with ovarian cancer who have been diagnosed earlier have better outcomes, so earlier diagnosis can potentially save lives.

Afnan Banibakhsh
PhD student (Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau)

Lauren Powell


I graduated from an MSci Degree in Biological Sciences from the Royal Veterinary College and am now undertaking a MRC IMPACT funded PhD studentship. The project investigates the potential of protein disulfide isomerase (PDI) as a therapeutic target against pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer remains largely incurable with a one-year survival rate of just 20% and a five-year survival rate of only 7%. PDI is an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) enzyme that plays a vital role in proteostasis, its disruption can lead to ER stress and ultimately apoptosis. The project therefore aims to understand how PDI inhibition impacts pancreatic cancer metabolism and proliferation and hence aims to provide a foundation for the clinical development of PDI inhibitors.


Hope H.jpg

Hope Haime

Research Technician (MRC)

Hope graduated from the University of Sussex with an MSci Degree in Biochemistry and is now taking on a MRC funded Research Technician post. The project will focus on targeting 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type-7 (HSD17B7) as a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide with approximately 1.4 million cases diagnosed each year. The 5-year survival rate stands at 58.7% with most patients requiring long term treatment. Current treatment includes surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy and therefore there is a need for the development of novel treatment approaches with reduced toxicity and drug resistance. HSD17B7 is involved in the conversion of oestrone to oestradiol, where oestradiol is upregulated in colorectal cancer and thought to be responsible for the increase in cell proliferation. Thus, the project will involve investigating the effect of HSD17B7 inhibition (achieved by specific drug inhibitors and siRNA) on oestradiol synthesis and colorectal cancer cell proliferation. Liquid-chromatography mass spectrometry and cell proliferation assays are vital for the completion of this project.



Sunera Khan

MBChB1 Intercalating student (University of Birmingham)

Sunera is in her third year of studying medicine at the University of Birmingham. She has taken a year out of her studies to pursue her research interests on the Universities Intercalating Medicine programme.  She will be investigating the role of 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type-7 on oestrogen-driven colorectal cancer growth.


Previous students, PhDs, and post-doctorals

Amy Hall - Society for Endocrinology SUmmer Student (2019) - Testing the STS and Aromatase inhibitory activity of novel anti-cancer compounds.


Daljit Sidhu - Intercalating Clinical Sciences student (2018 - 2019) - The regulation if 17beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase by oestrogens in colorectal cancer.

Varun Varma - Intercalating Clinical Sciences student (2017 - 2018) - The effect of TNFalpha on sulfated oestrogen uptake in colorectal cancer.

Lorna Gilligan - MRC PhD student (2013 - 2017) - Oestrogen Metabolism in Colorectal Cancer

Sarah Kelly - BMedSci Student (2016) - Controlling the Inferno: Does inflammation alter oestrogen metabolism in normal physiology and cancer?


Ali Gondal - Intercalating Clinical Sciences student (2015 - 2016) - Non-genomic oestrogen action in colorectal cancer


Wenkui Dai - Career Networks Gateway Bursury Fund (2015) - Low L-glutamate increases paclitaxel efficacy in triple-negative breast cancer.


Kirsty Burnell - BMedSci Student (2015) - The inflammatory regulation of STS activity


Habibur Rahman - Intercalating Clinical Sciences student (2014 - 2015) - Oestrogen metabolism and action in colorectal cancer.


Mai Nguyen - MSc Pharmaceutical Enterprise (2014 - 2015) - Inflammatory regulation of STS


Aiste Kupryte - Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation Scholarship (2014) - Inflammation and its effects on oestrogen metabolism in colon adenoma cell lines.


Kirsty Burnell - Society for Endocrinology Summer Studentship (2014) - Oestrogen metabolism enzymes and their regulation by inflammatory cytokines in colon adenoma cell lines


Anne-Marie Hewitt - Research Technician (2011 - 2014)


Vivien Tang - BMedSci Student (2014) - Regulation of steroid sulfatase activity in colorectal cancer


Maryam Hussian - BMedSci Student (2014) - Uptake of E1S via OATP in colorectal cancer


Jo Longman - MRC MRes student (2013) - OATP expression and inhibition in breast cancer


Alice Ross - BMedSci student (2013) - Inflammatory cytokines and steroid metabolism


William Evans - Intercalating MBChB (2013) - Progesterone and Oestrogen Action in Colorectal Cancer


Lorna Gilligan - MRC MRes student (2012) - Oestrogen metabolism in Colorectal Cancer


Rachel Arnold - BMedSci student (2012) - Targeting Hexokinase II in Colorectal Cancer


Roseanna Petrovic - BMedSci Student (2012) - Oestrogen metabolism in Prostate Cancer