Radiobiology Research

Group leader: Professor Jason Parsons


To investigate the effects of different types of radiotherapy (including photons, protons and other particle ions) at the molecular and cellular level on models of specific cancers, and to contribute to development of novel strategies utilising radiotherapy for optimal cancer treatment.

Our research 

Our major interests are in examining the molecular and cellular effect of different types of radiotherapy (photons, protons and particle ions) on tumour models, with a specific focus on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), and adult brain tumours (glioblastoma, GBM). We are particularly interested in the effects of radiation on DNA damage and the cellular pathways that respond to this, and the influence of biological (such as hypoxia) and physical (such as dose rate/FLASH) factors on the tumour cell response. Here we use 2D and 3D cell models of HNSCC and GBM to investigate the response to conventional photon radiotherapy using X-rays, but also to protons and other particle ions with different ionisation densities (linear energy transfer, LET) utilising the unique radiation facilities present in Birmingham, including the MC40 cyclotron. Our long term goal is to devise novel strategies using radiotherapy, including in combination with targeted drugs/inhibitors, leading to optimal treatment and therefore survival of patients with tumours of the head and neck, and brain.

Current projects

1.   Comparing the radiobiology of photons, protons and other particle ions (with increasing LET) in HNSCC and GBM cell models.

2.   Discovering novel cellular targets for drugs/inhibitors that can enhance the radiosensitivity of HNSCC and GBM tumour cells to different types of radiotherapy.

3.   Examining the impact of hypoxia in driving radioresistance of HNSCC and GBM tumour cell models and devising novel strategies using combinatorial treatments to overcome this.

4.   Understanding the radiobiology of ultra-high dose rate (FLASH) radiotherapy and biological factors leading to the “FLASH” effect.

Selected publications

1.    Zhou, C., Fabbrizi, M.R., Hughes, J.R., Grundy, G.J., and Parsons, J.L. (2022) Effectiveness of PARP inhibition in enhancing the radiosensitivity of 3D spheroids of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Front. Oncol., 12:940377, doi: 10.3389/fonc.2022.940377.

2.    Nickson, C.M., Fabbrizi, M.R., Carter, R.J., Hughes, J.R., Kacperek, A., Hill, M.A., and Parsons, J.L. (2021) USP9X is required to maintain cell survival in response to high-LET radiation. Front. Oncol., 11:671431, doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.671431.

3.    Vitti, E-T., Kacperek, A., and Parsons, J.L. (2020) Targeting DNA double strand break repair enhances radiosensitivity of HPV-positive and HPV-negative head and neck squamous cell carcinoma to photons and protons. Cancers., 12 (6), doi: 10.3390/cancers12061490.

4.    Carter, R.J., Nickson, C.M., Thompson, J.M., Kacperek, A., and Hill, M.A., Parsons, J.L. (2019) Characterisation of deubiquitylating enzymes involved in the cellular response to high-LET ionising radiation and complex DNA damage Int. J. Radiat. Oncol. Biol. Phys., 104 (3), 656-665.

5.  Carter, R.J, Nickson, C.M., Kacperek, A., Thompson, J., Hill, M.A., and Parsons, J.L. (2018) Complex DNA damage induced by high-LET a-particles and protons triggers a specific cellular DNA damage response. Int. J. Radiat. Oncol. Biol. Phys., 100 (3), 776-784.


Principal Investigator

Professor Jason Parsons


  • Dr Jonathan Hughes


  • George Duffield
  • Emma Melia