Professor Bennett is the Director of the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute at St George's, with research interests in cell senescence and genetics of melanoma and skin conditions.
Her research group is focused on the genetics of pigmentary disorders, especially melanoma (pigmented skin cancer), a common, rapidly progressing and highly malignant cancer. They have a particular interest in cell senescence as an anti-cancer defence, and how cancer cells escape from this through common genetic changes.
Normal cells become senescent after dividing for a limited number of times. Senescent cells are permanently non-dividing, but still alive: for example the cells in moles on the skin. Cancers grow only when cells mutate and escape from this senescence. The commonest gene that is mutated in familial melanoma, CDKN2A, normally acts in cell senescence.
Professor Bennett has contributed to a collaboration searching for compounds that re-induce senescence in cancer cells. Compounds have been identified and are ready to be developed as potential therapies for drug-resistant cancers like melanoma.
Another project is investigating whether novel and known markers of melanocyte senescence can help distinguish melanomas from moles. (In previous work, Professor Bennett and her group showed the cells of skin moles to be senescent). Such markers might also help predict who will develop two or more melanomas.
Professor Bennett and colleagues are also interested in the role of cell senescence in ageing, and the potential of this understanding to inform the development of new treatments for symptoms and diseases of ageing.
The group is working on an Age UK funded project aiming to inhibit the proteins produced by CDKN2A, to suppress cell senescence temporarily, to treat chronic wounds in older people.
Professor Bennett runs a joint research group with Dr Elena V Sviderskaya. The group also investigates the genetics and molecular biology of melanocytes, and of pigmentary disorders like vitiligo.
The group maintains the Wellcome Trust Functional Genomics Cell Bank, funded by the Wellcome Trust. The Bank holds more than 250 immortal lines of mammalian cells, especially melanocytes with pigmentary mutations.
The Bank provides cells to institutions around the world, helping the understanding of many inherited disorders of pigmentation such as albinism and Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome.
Professor Bennett is Professor of Cell Biology since 1999 and was Head of the Cell Biology and Genetics Research Centre from 2014-2016. She entered St George’s in 1983, originally as a full-time researcher and group leader funded by the Cancer Research Campaign, joining the academic staff in 1987.
Before that she held an Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) postdoctoral fellowship with JA Smith at the London ICRF Laboratories on cell differentiation and the cell cycle, and a Damon Runyon Fellowship with Professor R Dulbecco at the Salk Institute, California on mammary stem cells.
She graduated with an MA (Natural Sciences) from King’s College, Cambridge, and a PhD (1975) from
the London ICRF Laboratories/King’s College London.
Professor Bennett is currently President of the International Cell Senescence Association (ICSA), a Board member of the European Society for Pigment Cell Research (ESPCR) and a member of the European Vitiligo Task Force. She is a former President of ESPCR and of the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies.
She is the author of over 150 scientific publications, including senior authorship of a book, “The Colors of Mice, a Model Genetic Network” (Wiley, 2010). She is a member of the International Expert Panel for the French Government’s National Research Agency (ANR) and INSERM (since 2006), and a member of the International Scientific Board of ARIV Onlus, the Italian Vitiligo Association (since 2007).
Recent honours include: the Fritz Anders Memorial Lecture and Medal (2015), the Estela Medrano Memorial Award (2013), Guest membership of the European Society for Photobiology (2013) and Fellowship of the Royal Society of Medicine (2011).
Bennett DC. Genetics of melanoma progression: the rise and fall of cell senescence. Pigm. Cell Melanoma Res. 2016; 29, 122-140.
TD Fufa, ML Harris, DE Watkins-Chow, D Levy, DU Gorkin, DE Gildea L Song, A Safi, GE Crawford, EV Sviderskaya, DC Bennett, AS McCallion and WJ Pavan. Genomic analysis reveals distinct mechanisms and functional classes of SOX10-regulated genes in melanocytes. Hum Mol Genet. 2015; 24, 5433-5450.
M Sadaie, C Dillon, Mahito Narita, ARJ Young, CJ Cairney, LS Godwin, CJ Torrance, DC Bennett, WN Keith, M Narita. Cell-based screen for altered nuclear phenotypes reveals senescence progression in polyploid cells after Aurora kinase B inhibition. Mol Biol Cell. 2015; 26, 2971-2985.
MK Dennis, AR Mantegazza, OL Snir, D Tenza, A Acosta-Ruiz, C Delevoye, R Zorger, A Sitaram, W de Jesus-Rojas, K Ravichandran, J Rux, EV Sviderskaya, DC Bennett, G Raposo, MS Marks, SR Gangi Setty. BLOC-2 targets recycling endosomal tubules to melanosomes for cargo delivery. J Cell Biol. 2015, May; 209(4): 563-577.
AJ Muinonen-Martin, Q Zhang, W Faller, C Moyes, A Drummond, O Susanto, D Veltman, G Kalna, C Lindsay, DC Bennett, OJ Sansom, R Herd, R Jones, LM Machesky, MJO Wakelam, DA Knecht, RH Insall. Melanoma cells make LPA gradients that drive their chemotactic dispersal and invasion. PLoS Biol. 2014, 12:e1001966. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001966.
AD MacKenzie Ross, MG Cook, H Chong, M Hossain, HS Pandha, DC Bennett. Senescence evasion in melanoma progression: uncoupling of DNA-damage signaling from p53 activation and p21 expression. Pigm. Cell Melanoma Res. 2013, March; 26(2): 226-235.
DC Bennett, PJ Cooper, IR Hart. A line of non-tumorigenic mouse melanocytes, syngeneic with the B16 melanoma and requiring a tumour promoter for growth. Int J Cancer, 1987, March 15; 39(3): 414-418.
VC Gray-Schopfer, SC Cheong, H Chong, J Chow, A Moss, ZA Abdel-Malek, R Marais, D Wynford-Thomas, DC Bennett. Cellular senescence in naevi and immortalisation in melanoma: a role for p16? Br J Cancer, 2006, Aug 21; 95(4): 496-505.
Y Jin, CM Mailloux, K Gowan, SL Riccardi, G LaBerge, DC Bennett, PR Fain, RA Spritz. NALP1 in vitiligo-associated multiple autoimmune disease. New Engl J Med, 2007, Mar 22; 356(12), 1216-1225
Professor Bennett runs a joint research group with Dr Elena V Sviderskaya.
Joanna Castle (PhD student) – Reversible inhibition of p16-mediated cellular senescence to alleviate ageing symptoms;
Jaskaren Kohli (PhD student) – Multiple melanoma, prognostic markers and cell senescence;
Philip Goff (Wellcome Trust Cell Bank Manager)
Professor Bennett is currently carrying out collaborative work with:
Drs Andrea Maurichi and Monica Rodolfo, National Cancer Institute, Milan, Italy
Dr Masashi Narita, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, University of Cambridge
Professor Michael S Marks, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Professor Richard Spritz , University of Colorado, Denver, USA
Professor Nicol Keith, professor of molecular oncology (experimental therapeutics), Institute of Cancer Sciences, University of Glasgow
Dr Tanya Shaw, King's College, London
At St George's, Professor Bennett works collaboratively with senior lecturer Dr Soo-Hyun Kim (IMBE) and consultant dermatologist Dr Victoria Akhras (SGH Trust).
The Functional Genomics Cell Bank at St George’s
Awarded to DC Bennett (co-investigator) with EV Sviderskaya (SGUL) (PI)
Wellcome Trust, five-year programme grant
2015 to 2020
Validation of non-nucleolar TERT as a melanoma prognostic marker
Awarded to DC Bennett (PI) with V Akhras (SGH Trust) (co-investigator)
SGUL Impact and Innovation Awards
2015 to 2016
Reversible inhibition of p16-mediated cellular senescence to alleviate ageing symptoms
Awarded to DC Bennett (PI) with TJ Shaw (co-supervisor)
Age UK: PhD studentship
2013 to 2015
Melanocyte senescence and biology of progression in multiple melanoma patients
Awarded to DC Bennett (PI) with A Maurichi (National Cancer Institute, Milan) (Co-investigator)
Emme Rouge Foundation, Italy: Mara Nahum Scholarship
2012 to 2015
Multiple melanoma, prognostic markers and cell senescence
Awarded to DC Bennett (PI), with SH Kim (co-supervisor) in collaboaration with A Maurichi (Milan)
SGUL Graduate School/Wellcome Trust: doctoral training grant
2012 to 2015
Senectus: exploitation of a cell senescence drug discovery program
Awarded to DC Bennett (co-investigator), N Keith (PI) and other consortium members
Cancer Research UK
2010 to 2013
Gene expression and mechanisms of dysregulation in melanoma development
Awarded to DC Bennett (PI) with EV Sviderskaya
Medical Research Council: doctorial training grant
2008 to 2012
Congenic cell bank for pigmentary mutations
Awarded to DC Bennett jointly with EV Sviderskaya
Wellcome Trust five-year programme grant
2006 to 2011
Professor Bennett supervises PhD and MRes students and year 3 BSc research projects.
She lectures to undergraduates and Masters students on topics in cell and molecular biology, cancer and cell senescence.
She co-organizes a 3rd-year BSc research project module.