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Find a way of mapping tumours at the molecular and cellular level

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Professor Josephine Bunch

Professor Josephine Bunch, Team Lead, Rosetta

Co-Director of NiCE-MSI. Chair of Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry at Imperial College London







Cancer Research UK - £16m


Physics, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, technology innovation, industry

Exploring uncharted territory

Developing a map of cancer akin to Google Earth – zooming from the whole tumour right down into individual molecules inside cells – could transform our understanding of cancer and pioneer more effective cancer treatments.  

Navigating the cancer landscape

Funded by:

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Cartographers build maps of cities, countries and the world. Similarly, scientists can build maps of a tumour to better understand its inner workings – using imaging techniques to look at its overall shape, size and structure and studying biopsies to scrutinise the detail of its individual cells.   

But our tumour maps remain incomplete. We’re missing the ability to zoom into the very core of a cancer cell and understand how changes here impact the rest of the tumour, including its overall structure and behaviour.     

Uniting 70+ physicists, biologists and chemists with technology innovators and industry partners, the Rosetta team aims to develop an unparalleled, open-source tumour mapping tool – charting the overall tumour right down to the metabolism taking place in its cells.     

In short, a map of this detail is like a Google Earth for cancer. The team’s approach is already transforming our understanding of cancer and could open the door to new and more effective ways to diagnose and treat the disease.   

Mapping cancer's coordinates

Hundreds of thousands of metabolites – fats, proteins and sugars produced by cellular processes – are found in all cells. Central to Rosetta’s plan is to develop a way to visualise these metabolites, mapping their distribution in relation to individual cells’ genetics and the overarching tumour structure.     

The resulting 3D representation of cancer cell metabolism will capture any changes that occur as a tumour develops or evolves in response to treatment.     

By combining this information with data about a cell’s exact location and any corresponding changes to tumour behaviour, the team could identify new targets for drug development and radically improve our understanding of why some tumours become resistant to treatment. 

Professor Josephine Bunch

Professor Josephine Bunch, Team Lead, Rosetta

Co-Director of NiCE-MSI. Chair of Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry at Imperial College London

Our team is a collective force of physicists, chemists and biologists all coming together to map cancer in unprecedented detail. Our goal is to find out how tumours survive and why they keep growing. By applying our powerful analysis techniques to this problem, we want to gain new insight into these fundamental processes and develop new and better ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

On a new path to combating cancer

Rosetta will initially study breast, bowel and pancreatic cancers and an aggressive type of brain tumour, areas where they believe they can make the biggest difference. Their tools will be made freely available, enabling researchers and hospitals around the world to map tumours in unprecedented detail.   

Creating such detailed representations of tumours will transform our understanding of cancer, driving the development of new, improved ways to diagnose and treat the disease. 


Rosetta is using a range of cutting-edge techniques, including mass spectrometry imaging and the iKnife, which can detect changes in metabolism to ‘sniff out’ cancer cells during surgery in real-time. Team members include the inventors of many of the machines used in their work.   

Professor Josephine Bunch
Dr George Poulogiannis
Professor John F. Marshall
Professor Owen Sansom
Dr Richard Goodwin
Dr Mariia Yuneva
Professor Ian Gilmore
Professor Zoltan Takats
Professor Kevin Brindle
Dr Simon Barry
Magali Garrett
Harry C Hall