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Professor Fiona Watt


Professor Fiona Watt is the director of the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, King’s College London. Professor Watt is internationally known for detailing the mechanisms that control epidermal stem cell renewal, differentiation, and tissue aggregation. She is also known for discovering how each of those processes’ regulations are removed in diseased cells.

She became the first woman president of the International Society of Stem Cell Research(ISSCR) in 2008, and has advocated on behalf of women in science. Fiona Watt obtained her first degree from Cambridge University and her DPhil, in cell biology, from the University of Oxford. She was a postdoc at MIT, where she first began studying differentiation and tissue organisation in mammalian epidermis. She established her first research group at the Kennedy Institute for Rheumatology in London and then spent 20 years at the CRUK London Research Institute. She helped to establish the CRUK Cambridge Research Institute and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research and in 2012 she moved to King’s College London to found the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine. From 2006 to 2012 she was Deputy Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute and Deputy Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, University of Cambridge.

Fiona Watt has received a numerous awards and honors. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation and a member of the Academia Europaea. She is also an honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has received the CE.R.I.E.S. Research Award of Chanel, the American Society for Cell Biology Women in Cell Biology Senior Award and the FEDERA award of the Dutch Federation of Medical Scientific Societies. She is past president of the British Society for Cell Biology and the International Society for Stem Cell Research. Her service to scientific publishing includes serving as editor in chief of the Journal of Cell Science and deputy editor of eLife. She is a member of several scientific advisory boards, including the Canadian Stem Cell Network, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the Mechanobiology Institute, Singapore (MBI), and the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA). She is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (since 2000) and Royal Society (since 2003). She is an outspoken advocate of women in science and has trained over 40 PhD students and over 60 postdoctoral researchers, many of whom have gone on to pursue highly successful independent research careers.

Fiona Watt’s long-standing interest is in how the outer covering of mammalian skin, the epidermis, is maintained through self-renewal of stem cells and terminal differentiation of their progeny. Using in vitro models of cultured human epidermis and in vivo models of genetically modified mice, she has identified stem cell markers, determined where stem cells are located, and elucidated the role of several signalling pathways, including Wnt and Notch, in regulating the size of the stem cell compartment. She has recently used artificial bioengineered microenvironments to capture single human epidermal stem cells and examine their responses to specific physical cues in vitro and shown that different types of ECM interaction trigger epidermal differentiation via different sensing mechanisms and downstream signalling pathways. She has also uncovered a network of genetically interacting chromatin factors that regulate functionally related genes controlling ECM adhesion, thereby demonstrating that the interplay between diverse intrinsic and extrinsic signals is central to determining cell fate decisions. Most recently she has characterised different fibroblast lineages in the skin and shown how they contribute to tumour stroma.

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