Charles obtained his first degree in Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, and PhD at the University of Leicester. This was followed by postdoctoral work at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories in London, and at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. He was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship in Basic Biomedical Science by the Wellcome Trust to set up his own laboratory at the University of Manchester in 1992. Charles jointly established the Manchester Breast Centre, a pan-Manchester organisation uniting basic and clinical scientists working on mammary gland biology and breast cancer in 2005, and co-founded the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at the University of Manchester in 2009. He was appointed to the position of Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research in 2009.