Dr Francis Mussai MA(Oxon) BM BCh DPhil MRCPCH

Dr Francis Mussai

Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy
Clinical Senior Lecturer in Paediatric Oncology
Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Oncology
Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist Fellow

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Francis Mussai is a Clinical Senior Lecturer in Paediatric Oncology in the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy and an Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Oncology at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

His research is focused on understanding the interaction between paediatric and adult cancers and the immune system, in particular how cancers suppress the immune response to avoid destruction. Projects involving solid tumours and haematological malignancies are currently underway.

In addition Francis aims to develop novel therapies for paediatric cancers, from pre-clinical studies through to early phase clinical trials.


  • DPhil in Clinical Medicine, Magdalen College, University of Oxford, 2012
  • Membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, 2007
  • Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (USMLE), USA, 2007
  • BM BCh, Christ Church College, University of Oxford
  • MA (Oxon) in Physiological Sciences, St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford


Francis read Medicine at the University of Oxford graduating in 2004. He developed an interest in Paediatric Oncology through early clinical experience with the late Dr John Pritchard. Francis went on to complete his General Paediatrics training at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford under the stewardship of Dr Chris Mitchell.

In 2007, Francis was accepted onto the Johns Hopkins-National Institutes of Health Joint Fellowship Program in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology (USA) and underwent sub-speciality training. Whilst at the NIH, he begun doctoral studies, through a Wellcome Trust-NIH Studentship. Under the mentorship of Dr Ira Pastan and Dr Alan Wayne, Francis investigated the cytotoxicity of a novel anti-CD22 immunotoxin against paediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

In 2010, Francis returned to the University of Oxford to complete his doctoral studies in Professor Vincenzo Cerundolo’s laboratory. He investigated the mechanisms in which Acute Myeloid Leukaemia blasts create an immunosuppressive niche and suppress haematopoiesis.

In 2012, Francis moved to Birmingham to lead a research group investigating the immunosuppressive microenvironment created by paediatric malignancies.

Clinically, Francis is an honorary Paediatric Oncology Consultant at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. He continues to work on the development of early phase clinical trials for paediatric cancers, and is a member of the Innovative Therapies for Children with Cancer (ITCC) European Clinical Trials Committee. He is involved in teaching within the hospital and University and has established an International Clinical Fellowship program within the clinical department.


  • Paediatric Haematology-Oncology International Clinical Fellow program - Lead
  • MBChB Year 5 Paediatric Course
  • MSc Clinical Oncology: Pathology of Cancer and Paediatric Oncology modules

Postgraduate supervision

Francis supervises in pre- and post- doctoral research students who are interested in the immunology of paediatric and adult cancers or investigating the activity of novel targeted therapies.   The group contains a number of technical, undergraduate, doctoral, and post-doctoral staff. The group welcomes applications from prospective doctoral or post-doctoral candidates who wish to apply for Fellowship/ Grant programs to join the team.


Francis’ research group is centred on understanding how paediatric solid tumours and haematological malignancies interact with the immune system and suppress the immune response.  The laboratory is co-supervised with Dr Carmela De Santo. Research studies are carried out in collaboration with a number of local, national and international research collaborators. Clinical trials based on this laboratory’s research are being established in partnership with pharmaceutical companies to try and improve patient outcomes.

Adult Cancers

Research projects investigating how adult cancers (such as colon, mesothelioma, renal, and melanoma) escape from the immune system are underway in the laboratory. New drugs which can re-activate the immune response against cancer are being tested, alongside national clinical trials. The research is co-supervised with Professor Gary Middleton.


Neuroblastoma is the most common extra-cranial solid malignancy of childhood. Although the prognosis for low stage neuroblastoma has improved, patients with Stage IV neuroblastoma have an extremely poor survival despite treatment with high chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and immunotherapy.

Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) are a population of immature myeloid cells found in increased numbers in adults with solid tumours and they inactivate a patient’s anti-tumour immune response. The project aims to understand the role of MDSCs in the immunobiology of neuroblastoma and target their activity, to restore anti-cancer immunity. The project is being carried out in collaboration with Professor John Anderson at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Professor  Louis Chesler at the Institute for Cancer Research, and Dr Kate Wheeler at the Children’s Hospital, Oxford.

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is the most frequent leukaemia in adults and the second most common leukaemia of childhood. Despite intensification of chemotherapy treatment, a significant number of patients will relapse and succumb to their disease. The mechanisms in which AML blasts create an immunosuppressive niche and halt normal haematopoiesis are currently under study in the Mussai group. Development of prognostic biomarkers and identification of therapies to overcome the immunosuppressive microenvironment in AML are the subject of ongoing research. The study is being carried out in collaboration with Dr Pam Kearns. 

The research has been generously funded by the Amber Phillpott Trust Birmingham Children's Hospital Research Fund, Children with Cancer, the Stiliyan Petrov Foundation, Niayah’s Fund, Cancer Research UK and other local charities.
We welcome enquiries interested in finding our more about our work or how to contribute to our research funding. 

Press Coverage:


Other activities

  • Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Oncology at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital


Mussai F, Egan S, Hunter S, Webber H, Fisher J, Wheat R, McConville C, Sbirkov Y, Wheeler K, Bendle G, Aderson J, Chesler L and De Santo C (2015) Neuroblastoma arginase activity creates an immunosuppressive microenvironment that impairs autologous and engineered immunity. Cancer Research 75(15):3043-53

Mussai F, Egan S, Higginbotham-Jones J, Pery T, Beggs A, Odintsova E, Loke J, Pratt G, U KP, Lo A, Ng M, Kearns P, Cheng P and De Santo C (2015) Arginine dependence of acute myeloid leukaemia blast proliferation: a  novel therapeutic target. Blood 125(15):2386-96

Mussai FJ, Yap C, Mitchell C and Kearns P (2015) Challenges of clinical trial design for targeted agents against pediatric leukaemias. Frontiers in Paediatric Oncology 4:374

Mussai F, De Santo C, Abu-Dayyeh I, Booth S, Quek L, McEwen-Smith RM, Qureshi A, Dazzi F, Vyas P and Cerundolo V (2013) Acute myeloid leukaemia creates an arginase-dependent immunosuppressive microenvironment. Blood 122(5):749-58
Commentary: Marcucci G Blood 2013 122(5):620-621 and Haznedaroglu Blood (August 26 2013)

Mussai F, De Santo C and Cerundolo V (2012) Interaction between invariant NKT cells and Myeloid Derived Suppressor Cells in cancer patients: evidence and therapeutic opportunities. Journal of Immunotherapy 35(6):449-59

Fitzgerald DJ, Moskatel E, Ben-Josef G, Traini R, Tendler T, Sharma A, Antignani A, Mussai F, Wayne A, Kreitman RJ and Pastan I (2011) Enhancing immunotoxin cell-killing activity via combination therapy with ABT-737. Leukemia and Lymphoma 52(2):79-81

El-Mallawany NK, Geller L, Bollard CM, Wistinghausen B, Mussai F, Wayne AS, Alobeid B and Cairo MS (2011) Long-term remission in a child with refractory EBV(+) hydro vacciniforme-like T-cell lymphoma through sequential EBV(+) related allogenic hematopoietic SCT followed by donor-derived EBV-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte immunotherapy. Bone Marrow Transplantation 46(5):759-761

Mussai F, Campana D, Bhojwani D, Stetler-Stevenson M, Steinberg SM, Wayne AS and Pastan I (2010) Cytotoxicity of the anti-CD22 immunotoxin HA22 (CAT-8015) against paediatric acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. British Journal of Haematology 150(3):352-8