Stephen Robbins


Oncology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology


Contact information


Office: 403-220-4304

Web presence



Office : HRIC2B23A

Preferred method of communication


Johanne Filion


Office: 403-220-7091

Research and teaching

Summary of Research

The Robbins laboratory has had a long-standing interest in how extracellular signals are communicated to the cell to control such essential biological processes as the growth and differentiation of mammalian cells.  They have been particularly interested in how this complex biochemical circuitry can go awry in the setting of cancer and how it can be targeted for therapeutic intervention.

With a greater understanding of the molecular drivers of tumor progression the Robbins laboratory are translating their findings using a wide range of pre-clinical models with the ultimate goal of testing them in the clinic to improve patient outcomes.  Their specific focus is in the area of hard-to-treat cancers including 1.) brain tumors and 2.) advanced metastatic disease with a specific focus on organ-specific metastasis.  Their studies have moved beyond the cancer cell per se and now include strategies to investigate how the tumor microenvironment fuels cancer cell proliferation and imparts therapeutic resistance to our current therapies.

The specific research areas in the Robbins laboratory include:

1. To therapeutically target the glioma disease reservoirs, namely the brain tumor-initiating cells and the highly invasive cellular compartment.  In this regard they have isolated glioma targeting peptides that cross the blood brain barrier and are currently being developed as a platform for imaging and therapeutic delivery.

2. To determine the role of the brain tumor microenvironment including microglia and macrophages in glioma progression and their contribution to therapeutic resistance.

3. Based on the fact that most patients die from metastases than from their primary tumour it is important to determine the molecular features of a cancer cell and the target organ that facilitate the metastatic process.  We have focused on the vascular ‘addresses’ that allow for the homing of cancer cells to specific organs in the body with specific focus on the liver and lungs, two major sites for metastatic spread.   


Dr. Stephen Robbins is currently the Scientific Director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Cancer Research. He is also the Co-Chair of the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance, a group that represents over 30 of the major cancer research funders in the country. He completed his undergraduate degree at York University in 1985 and then completed his PhD in 1991 at the University of British Columbia in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. He then obtained his passion for cancer research while pursuing his postdoctoral studies (1991-1996) under Nobel laureate, Dr. J. Michael Bishop at the University of California at San Francisco. He joined the University of Calgary in 1996 where he is now a Professor in the Departments of Oncology and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He was a Scientist of the Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (formerly known as the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research) and held a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Molecular Genetics of Cancer for 10 years. He completed his term as the Director of the Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute at the University of Calgary and was the Associate Director Research for Alberta Health Services Cancer Care. Dr. Robbins has had a long-standing interest in understanding the biochemical circuitry that controls cellular proliferation and differentiation and how this circuitry goes awry in cancer. During his research career he has taken a more translational approach including defining new therapies for malaria, has discovered a novel class of anti-inflammatory agents and identified new therapeutic targets for brain tumours. In addition to maintaining a productive research program he is also committed to teaching and has won several awards with respect to these activities at the University of Calgary.