Christopher Francis Higgins was born in Cambridge in 1955, where his father was Fellow of Trinity College. He was schooled in London at Raynes Park Comprehensive, and studied violin for three years as a Junior Exhibitioner at the Royal College of Music where he was awarded the Hugh Bean prize and led the First Orchestra. Recognising that he was rather less musically talented than his three younger brothers he opted for an academic career.
Christopher graduated from Durham (Grey College) with a first class degree in Botany in 1976 and a PhD in 1979. While at Durham he led the University Orchestra for four years, gave innumerable concerts with other groups and probably spent more time in the music department than he did on the science site. After graduating Chris did not lose touch with Durham - his father, Philip, moved to Durham in 1979 as Head of the Department of Mathematics, retiring in 1991, and Chris's daughter, Julia, graduated from Durham (Collingwood College) in Politics in 2005.
After leaving Durham he won a Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship to become immersed in the emerging field of molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. After two years he returned to the UK to a lectureship at the University of Dundee where he became Reader and then ad hominem Professor at the age of 33. In 1989 he moved to Oxford to lead the establishment of new research laboratories for ICRF (now Cancer Research UK) at the Institute of Molecular Medicine and in 1994 was appointed Nuffield Professor and Head of the Department of Clinical Biochemistry. In 1998 Chris was recruited by the Medical Research Council as Director and appointed Head of Division at Imperial College.
Christopher has published over 200 research papers in leading journals such as Nature, Cell and Science and has received many awards for his research including the CIBA medal of the Biochemical Society, the Fleming Award of the Society for General Microbiology and a Howard Hughes International Research Scholarship. His work focused on many fundamental aspects of the genetics and cell biology of microorganisms and mammalian cells, he discovered, characterized (and even named) the ABC family of membrane transporters responsible for transporting small molecules (nutrients, hormones etc) into and out of all cells. The ABC protein family includes many proteins of medical importance including the cystic fibrosis protein and the protein which causes resistance of cancers to chemotherapy. Christopher has always endeavored to ensure that his fundamental discoveries are exploited and, for example, his team carried out the first clinical trials for cystic fibrosis gene therapy in the UK.
Councils, committees and advisory positions
Christopher has served on the Councils of BBSRC and The Academy of Medical Sciences and the Executive Board of the Association of Medical Charities. He was scientific advisor to the 2001-02 House of Lords Select Committee on stem cells. He is currently a member of the Human Genetics Commission and Chairs SEAC - the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee which advises The Government on BSE and vCJD. He has also been very active at the Science-Arts interface and in promoting public appreciation of science at all levels from schools lectures with the Royal Institution to speaking out on the importance of animal and embryo research for medical advances.