stem cells in their environment

MRC/Wellcome discussion: Mental Health research and COVID-19

13 May 2020

Professor Fiona Watt recently met with Paul Matthews, Professor of Clinical Neurosciences, Imperial College London, Director of the UK Dementia Research Centre at Imperial College London and Chair of the MRC Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, Miranda Wolpert, Head of Mental Health Priority Area, Wellcome, Andrew Welchman, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Wellcome and Irene Tracey, Nuffield Chair in Anaesthetic Science, University of Oxford, MQ Trustee and member of MRC Council to discuss mental health funding related to COVID-19.

To see details on the background and availability of funding related to this field please see:


Professor Watt announced as government’s preferred candidate for Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC)

January 2018

Professor Watt has been selected as the government’s preferred candidate to be the Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC) when it becomes a constituent part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in April 2018. She takes on the role from Sir John Savill who steps down from his post as MRC’s CEO at the end of March. When asked about Professor Watt’s appointment, Sir John commented:

"I am delighted that Professor Fiona Watt has been selected as the government's preferred candidate to be the first Executive Chair of MRC, succeeding me when I leave the current CEO role at the end of March 2018. Fiona is an outstanding scientist and will bring many new ideas to MRC and UKRI, strengthening still further MRC's commitment to discovery science for human health. She is a wonderful role model for many younger biomedical scientists in the UK medical research community. As the MRC enters its second 105 years as part of UKRI, I am sure that Fiona is well placed to lead the MRC to continuing successes".

Operating across the whole of the UK and with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UKRI will bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England. UKRI comes into existence on Sunday 1 April next year and is tasked to ensure the UK maintains its world leadership in research and innovation; the role of the Executive Chair is therefore crucial to delivering this key mission.

The MRC Executive Chair role is potentially subject to a pre-appointment hearing by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. This is currently being considered by the Committee and if requested will be arranged in the New Year.

Professor Watt’s selection for this prestigious role is testament to her outstanding work in the field of stem cells over many years.  A Cambridge graduate, followed by a doctorate from Oxford in cell biology, Fiona established her first research group at the Kennedy Institute for Rheumatology and then spent 20 years at the CRUK London Research Institute (now part of the Francis Crick Institute). She helped to establish the CRUK Cambridge Research Institute and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, moving to King's in 2012 to found the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine.

Fiona is currently Vice-Dean of Research for the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine and Director of the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King’s.  She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her awards include the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Women in Cell Biology Senior Award, Presidency of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, the Hunterian Society Medal and the FEBS/EMBO Women in Science Award. In 2016 she was also awarded Doctor Honoris Causa of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid.

Sir Mark Walport, UKRI CEO Designate, said: "Professor Fiona Watt is a distinguished biomedical scientist who will be an outstanding leader of the Medical Research Council. I am delighted she has been selected as the government’s preferred candidate for the role of MRC Executive Chair."

Fiona will continue with her research and leadership of the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King’s on a part-time basis for one day a week once she takes on the role of Executive Chair of the MRC.


Professor Watt leads the stem cell and cell signalling spoke of Centre for Cellular Signal Patterns (CellPAT)

May 2017

The National Danish Research Foundation has announced that it will give 61 million DKK (£7 million) to fund the Centre for Cellular Signal Patterns (CellPAT) led by Professor Jorgen Kjems.

CellPAT brings together world-leaders in the fields of stem cells and cell signaling (Professor Fiona Watt, King’s College London), nano-scale bioengineering (Professor Jorgen Kjems and Professor Duncan Sutherland, Aarhus University, Denmark), immunology (Professor Steffan Thiel, Aarhus University, Denmark) and high resolution molecular imaging (Professor Ralf Jungmann, Max Planck University, Germany) in order to understand how cells communicate with their surroundings.

By focusing on 3 key research areas in cell signaling, CellPAT aims to unravel how cells receive and process complex instructions:

  1. Studying how exactly our immune cells recognise “danger signals” on pathogens and distinguishes them from “safe signals” on our own cells.
  2. Investigating how cells recognise certain vesicles located outside the cell and allows them to enter the cell by crossing the cell membrane.
  3. Understanding how stem cells recognise extracellular signals that control their growth and development.

The researchers at CellPAT envision that their work will provide the foundation for the development of multiple new therapy strategies such as the development of immune-modulating drugs, delivering precision medicine to cells (such as gene-therapy) or using a patient’s own stem cells repair tissues damaged by disease.


Honorary Doctorate Award for Professor Fiona Watt

July 2016

Professor Watt was delighted to be invited to Spain recently to receive a Doctor Honoris Causa from UAM (Autonomous University of Madrid), an award which also honours their institution.


Mr Arsenio Huergo (the Social Council’s first Vice President), Rector Professor José M Sanz and Professor Watt


Professor Watt receives her honorary doctorate from Rector Professor José M Sanz


Interview with HipSci

April 2016 recently caught up with Wattlab's Davide Danovi, and Project Manager Reena Halai, to find out about the HipSci project...


You can read the full interview on the High Content Review website.


Professor Fiona Watt to receive Women in Science Award

February 2016

Professor Watt has been announced as the winner of the 2016 FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award. She's received the award for uncovering the mechanisms that control mammalian epidermal stem cell renewal and differentiation, and for discovering how these processes are deregulated in cancer, wound healing and inflammatory skin disorders; in addition to recognition for her commitment to gender issues, her leadership qualities and her active mentorship of junior scientists.


For more details, please visit the EMBO website.


CSCRM celebrates official launch

December 2015

Professor Sir Robert Lechler (Vice-Principal [Health]) and Professor Fiona Watt (Director, Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine) welcomed guests from King's, and the wider scientific community, to celebrate the official launch of CSCRM. Extensive refurbishment of the Centre, which enjoys enviable views from the 28th floor of Guy's hospital tower, has resulted in a world-class research facility for scientists investigating mechanisms of stem cell regulation. The Centre currently attracts funding from sources including the Wellcome Trust and MRC.


You can see pictures from the night - including our special guest "Albert Einstein" - here...


CSCRM in RegMedNet's spotlight

November 2015

RegMedNet, an online network uniting the regenerative medicine community, is featuring the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine in their 'spotlight' this month. Simply sign up online (for free) to view exclusive video content - including an interview with Professsor Watt in which she discusses her experiences in the field, current research and hopes for the Centre's achievements.

Access the RegMedNet website.

Featured content: Keynote lecture from Anne Carpenter from our Sept 1 Workshop


Wattlab postdoc wins award for outstanding abstract

October 2015

During the Montagna Symposium on the Biology of Skin, held in Salishan (Oregon, USA), Wattlab postdoc Kif Liakath-Ali was delighted to receive the "Eugene M. Farber Travel Award for Young Investigators" from the Society for Investigative Dermatology.

The award recognises the efforts of young researchers in the field of investigative dermatology and was presented to Kif by Professor Molly Kulesz-Martin (Director of the Montagna Symposium 2015), following the oral presentation he gave of his 'outstanding' abstract.


Professor Watt encourages international young scientists in London

July 2015

Professor Watt was delighted to deliver the keynote opening lecture at the 2015 London International Youth Science Forum. The two week residential event held at Imperial College London attracts over 400 of the world's leading young scientists aged 17 - 21 years old from more than 60 participating countries.

The event included lectures and demonstrations from leading scientists, visits to industrial sites, research centres, scientific institutions and organisations, including world class laboratories and universities.

You can watch the LIYSF opening day video below.


Wellcome funding for Cell Therapy PhD programme

July 2015

The Wellcome Trust has awarded funding to a four year PhD programme entitled 'Cell therapies and regenerative medicine' taking place in the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine. The programme will fund five PhD students for three years and will train a new generation of researchers in regenerative medicine. PhD supervisors will be drawn from across the different divisions and campuses of King's College London.


Professor Fiona Watt will be the director of the new programme and the deputy director will be Professor Graham Lord (Director of NIHR Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre, Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital and King's College London).


The programme is generously supported by King's and builds on the remarkable success of the King's Bioscience Institute (KBI) MRes/PhD Programme in Biomedical and Translational Science funded by the Guy's and St Thomas' Charity.


LabTube interviews Davide Danovi

June 2015

LabTube caught up with Davide Danovi (Director - HipSci Cell Phenotyping) at 'Stem Cells in Drug Discovery 2015' in Cambridge. Davide discussed the HipSci cell phenotyping strategy and the benefits this provides for disease modelling and drug discovery – you can check out the video here.


Wattlab PhD student's prize-winning image

April 2015

Kif Liakath-Ali has been awarded first prize in the British Society for Cell Biology's annual Image Competition.  Kif received his prize at the BSCB meeting in Coventry for his image, which he captured whilst performing a reverse genetic screen to identify skin phenotypes from knockout mice.

You can see Kif's winning image here, and find out more about the competition and other winners on the BSCB website.


Former Wattlab PhD student wins Young Scientist Award

March 2015

Former Wattlab PhD student Dr Kai Kretzschmar (above, right) was named the 2015 Nikon Young Scientist of the DGZ (German Society for Cell Biology). He received the award diploma from DGZ president Professor Ralph Gräf (above, centre) and Nikon GmbH representative Dr Michael Möller (above, left) at the society's annual meeting in Cologne.

The Nikon Young Scientist Award of the DGZ is presented annually to PhD students or young postdocs for outstanding research in field of cell biology. Kai was recognised for his graduate work in the Wattlab on remodelling adult skin by epidermalb-catenin activation.


Prestigious award for Wattlab postdoc

March 2015

Emanuel Rognoni beat off stiff competition and was presented with the Young Investigator Award (YID) at the annual DGMB (German Society of Matrix biology) meeting in Muenster.


Emanuel received the award for his PhD work in which he discovered a new role of the focal adhesion protein Kindlin-1 for cutaneous stem cell homoeostasis by regulating Wnt and TGFb signaling.


Wattlab on the BBC

January 2015

Professor Fiona Watt and Dr Inês Sequeira were featured in a piece on the BBC in January, following a visit to our lab from a TV news crew.  Professor Watt was interviewed for the story on "Medical milestones of 2014". Watch the video on BBC online.

Professor Watt was also interviewed for The Future Engineer's 'Stem XX' podcast, which features "remarkable women in science, technology, engineering and maths".  You can listen to "Biology – and learning to fail – with Fiona Watt”.


Professor Watt links with industry 'down under'

November 2014

When Professor Watt visited Australia to deliver a keynote speech for the Sydney Cancer Conference, she was also invited by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) Australia to give a seminar about one of the UK's '8 Great Technologies' - Regenerative Medicine, and opportunities for Australian companies working in this area.

Watch a video of the seminar below:


Award-winning musician seeks inspiration in the Wattlab

July 2014

Natasha Khan – aka Bat For Lashes – who has several music awards and countless other nominations under her belt, paid a visit to Professor Watt's lab recently to get inspiration for the Wellcome Trust initiated science outreach project Body of Songs.

You can find out about Natasha's inspirations and listen to the finished track here - and watch a short trailer (including a few snapshots from the lab) below:


Read more about the visit in Christine's blog post.


Having eczema may reduce your risk of skin cancer

May 2014

Eczema caused by defects in the skin could reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, according to new research published in eLife. The immune response triggered by eczema could help prevent tumour formation by shedding potentially cancerous cells from the skin.

Professor Fiona Watt said: 'We are excited by our findings as they establish a clear link between cancer susceptibility and an allergic skin condition in our experimental model. They also support the view that modifying the body's immune system is an important strategy in treating cancer.

Media coverage included articles in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.

You can also read more about the story on the King's College London website.

Professor Fiona Watt and Dr Esther Hoste were interviewed about their findings for the eLife podcast.


'New £2.3m research 'Hub' for regenerative medicine'

April 2014

Professor Fiona Watt will be the Director of a new 'Hub' to address important challenges in translational regenerative medicine.

The Hub forms part of a £2.3 million investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).  It will draw together leading stem cell and transplant scientists from across the UK, with partners from King's College London, Imperial College London and the Universities of Oxford, Birmingham and Newcastle.

For more details, please visit the King's College London website.


'PhD student presents research at House of Commons'

March 2014

Kif Liakath-Ali, from Professor Watt's lab, was invited to the House of Commons to present his research to a range of politicians and a panel of expert judges.

The SET for Britain poster competition gives early career scientists the chance to meet MPs and to present and share their work.  Kif's PhD research focuses on novel genes involved in mammalian skin function in collaboration with the Sanger Institute Mouse Genetics Project.

For more details, please visit the King's College website.

Kif Liakath-Ali with Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, at the House of Lords.


'Royal Society public lecture'

February 2014

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world's most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering and medicine.

Professor Fiona Watt was invited to give a public lecture at the Royal Society's central London headquarters on 10th February. She delivered her talk - "Stem cells and human health" - to a packed auditorium.

Watch a video of the lecture and Q&A session below.


'Wattlab paper featured on cover of Nature'

December 2013

Professor Fiona Watt's lab has had a paper published in Nature – and is also featured on the cover.  The paper is about fibroblasts – a type of cell found in the connective tissue of the body's organs, where they produce proteins such as collagen that provide structural support.  It is widely believed that all fibroblasts are the same cell type. However, our publication indicates that in skin there are at least two distinct types of fibroblasts: those in the upper layer of connective tissue, which are required for the formation of hair follicles and those in the lower layer, which are responsible for making most of the skin's collagen fibres and for the initial wave of repair of damaged skin.

For more details, please visit the King's College London website.

You can read the research paper on the Nature website.


'King's College London award for Professor Watt'

November 2013

Professor Fiona Watt's contribution to the promotion of Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine research was recognised at KCL's annual "King's Awards" ceremony last night.  Fiona was presented with her award for "Most Outstanding Contribution to Public Engagement" by KCL Principal, Professor Rick Trainor.


'Professor Watt on Radio 4's "Inside Science"'

September 2013

Professor Fiona Watt was delighted to be invited to take part in BBC Radio 4's "Inside Science" programme on Thursday 12th September.  She spoke to presenter Adam Rutherford about the history of stem cell research and what the future holds for regenerative medicine.  You can listen to the programme on BBC iPlayer (the Stem Cell feature is the first one – starting just 1 minute into the programme).


'£13m investment in stem cell research'

November 2012

The Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council (MRC) today announced a £12.75 million initiative to create a catalogue of high-quality adult stem cells, so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Professor Fiona Watt, Director of the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King's, said: 'The Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative brings together world-leading expertise in clinical genetics, stem cell biology and genomic technologies...' read more >


'King's appoints stem cell expert to lead new Centre'

June 2011

King's College London announced today that it is set to launch a Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine to be led by Professor Fiona Watt, former president of the International Society of Stem Cell Research... read more >