Shankar Balasubramanian

Shankar Balasubramanian

Shankar Balasubramanian, Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry
Born (1966-09-30) 30 September 1966 (age 57)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge (MA, MSci, PhD)
Known for
Scientific career
ThesisStudies on the reaction mechanism of chorismate synthase (1992)
Doctoral advisorChris Abell
Doctoral studentsJulian Huppert

Sir Shankar Balasubramanian FRS FMedSci (born 30 September 1966) is an Indian-born British chemist and Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, Senior Group Leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He is recognised for his contributions in the field of nucleic acids. He is scientific founder of Solexa and Cambridge Epigenetix.


Born in Madras (now Chennai) India in 1966, Shankar Balasubramanian moved to the UK with his parents in 1967. He grew up in a rural area just outside Runcorn, Cheshire, and attended Daresbury Primary School, then Appleton Hall High School (which has since amalgamated to form Bridgewater High School). He went on to study the Natural Sciences Tripos at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he did his undergraduate degree from 1985 to 1988 and continued with a PhD for research on the reaction mechanism of the enzyme chorismate synthase supervised by Chris Abell (1988–1991).

Career and research

Following his PhD, Balasubramanian travelled to the United States as a SERC/NATO Research Fellow and worked in the group of Stephen J. Benkovic at Pennsylvania State University (1991–1993).[citation needed]

He began his independent academic career in 1994 at the University of Cambridge and has remained there ever since, first as College Lecturer, then University Lecturer (1998), University Reader in Chemical Biology (2003) and Professor of Chemical Biology (2007). He was most recently appointed Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in 2008.

He currently[when?] directs research laboratories in the Department of Chemistry and also the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Institute at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. His former doctoral students include Julian Huppert.

Balasubramanian works in the field of nucleic acids. His citation on election to the Royal Society reads:

Shankar Balasubramanian is an internationally recognised leader in the field of nucleic acids who is distinguished for pioneering contributions to chemistry and its application to the biological and medical sciences. He is a principal inventor of the leading next generation sequencing methodology, Solexa sequencing, that has made routine, accurate, low-cost sequencing of human genomes a reality and has revolutionised biology. He has made seminal contributions to the identification, elucidation and manipulation of non-coding genetic elements, particularly four-stranded structures called G-quadruplexes. His work on the intervention of nucleic acid function using small molecules has revealed a number of molecular mechanisms that can be exploited, e.g. to modulate the biology of cancer.

More recently Balasubramanian has been inventing and applying new chemical methods to study epigenetic changes to DNA bases including single base resolution sequencing of 5-formylcytosine, 5-hydroxymethylcytosine and 5-methylcytosine.

Honours and awards

Honours and awards include:

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