Professor Lewis in his lab at our London Research Institute

Professor Julian Lewis was an exceptional scientist, and while based at our London Research Institute (LRI) made a huge contribution to our understanding of how embryos develop. His groundbreaking studies revealed how one of the cell’s communication systems, called the Notch signalling pathway, controls how cells in the embryo come to find themselves in the right place at the right time.

When these communication networks go awry in the adult body it can lead to cancer – Julian’s work helped spark an international interest in this field of research.

So it is with a heavy heart and great sadness that we report the news that Julian passed away on Wednesday at his home in Oxford, after living with prostate cancer for a decade.

His colleague and friend at the LRI Richard Treisman paid the following tribute:

“Julian’s kind and modest personality was combined with intellectual rigour, great clarity of expression, and broad interests, both personal and scientific. Julian was a brilliant scientist and a valued colleague, and will be sorely missed.”

Julian will be known to many undergraduate students across the UK for the elegance of his writing in perhaps the most famous of cellular biology textbooks, The Molecular Biology of the Cell, of which he was a co-author. He continued to write following his retirement from the LRI in 2012, and his most recent research paper was published only a few weeks ago.

He touched many lives and none more so than Professor Paul Martin. An inspiration to Paul in both his academic and personal life, Julian first mentored Paul during his PhD studies in Julian’s lab. And many years later he supported Paul again when he too had cancer.

We spoke to Paul when we wrote about his cancer journey, and he explained just how important his relationship with Julian had been.

“Julian was my PhD supervisor. So he’s been an inspiration to me for a very long time. He always had time for other people and was a great advocate for Cancer Research UK. He used to give talks about being a patient and having cancer. I think it made a real difference for people to hear a researcher talk about their work while at the same time having firsthand experience of cancer.

“And when we were both going through our cancer treatments we’d often talk about it when I used to visit him. He would give me advice, a bit like my dad, and support me even when he was very sick – he was always so stoic and brave. So that’s a serious hero. I shall miss him greatly.”