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KCL stem cell expert speaks at lecture


Professor Fiona M. Watt, Director of the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, King’s College London (KCL), spoke at the recent National Heart and Lung Institute Athena SWAN lecture about her career highlights in researching cell differentiation.

Watt attained her DPhil whilst studying at the University of Oxford, and conducted postdoctoral research at MIT, Cambridge, in the US. Watt was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003 and then went on to be the first female president of the International Society of Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) in 2008.

Watt began to focus her research on the role of stem cells in adult tissue maintenance. Stem cell therapy is most effective when there is a perfect match and the patient will then not have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their life. The preference is for stem cells to have been extracted from a baby tooth because they have not deteriorated from the ageing process or pollutants. The only painless and non-invasive way to harvest stem cells is from naturally shed teeth.

As a result of her work, Watt has been responsible for discoveries on the mechanisms that control stem cell renewal, differentiation and tissue aggregation. Watt’s first area of research was on using sheets of cultured epidermis to treat bad burns. It was at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) that Watt focused on the epidermis and found that she could select for stem cells by using flow cytometry.

Watt continued her work on cell differentiation at the CRUK Cambridge Research Institute and Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, before her move to KCL. The work she has been involved in includes the discovery of the importance of phosphatase in the onset of cell differentiation.