Edinburgh Cancer Research

Philippa Saunders (Affiliate)

Sex Steroid Hormone Action in Reproductive Health and Disease

Professor Philippa Tansy Kemp Saunders - Professor of Reproductive Steroids

Research in a Nutshell

Sex steroids including androgens and oestrogens are synthesised in the gonads and adrenals as well as in peripheral tissues e.g. adipose and skin. Steroids circulate in the blood and act as on tissues throughout the body. The endometrium is a multicellular tissue located within the womb (uterus) which is under endocrine control of ovarian hormones that fluctuate during the monthly menstrual cycle and regulate repetitive episodes of proliferation, angiogenesis, inflammation and tissue repair.

Endometrial cancer is the 4th most common malignancy in women and the most common gynaecological malignancy in developed countries. The incidence of endometrial cancer is rising, with alarming increases described in the 40-44 age group largely owing to escalating rates of obesity.


Research Programme



Phillipa Saunders Principal Investigator and Professor of Reproductive Steroids
Douglas Gibson Postdoctoral Fellow
Frances Collins Laboratory Manager
Arantza Esnal-Zufiaurre Research Support
Olympia Kelepouri Research Support
Ioannis Simitsidellis PhD student
Peter Sanderson CRUK Research Fellow/PhD studentship
Phoebe Kirkwood PhD student, MRC Tissue Repair programme
Jennifer Devlin Research Nurse


PA: Sheila.Marshall@ed.ac.uk


  • Professors Mark Arends and Alistair Williams (Pathology) – Diagnostic strategies for endometrial cancer
  • Professor Andrew Horne (MRC Centre for Reproductive Health), Professor Martin Gotte – Endometriosis: new treatment paradigms for pain
  • Professor Lee Smith (MRC Centre for Reproductive Health), Professor Charlotte Bevan (Imperial) – New models for measuring gender difference in response to androgens
  • Professor Hilary Critchley (MRC Centre for Reproductive Health) - Mechanisms underpinning heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Professor Ruth Andrew (BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Science) – Sex steroid profiling using MS/LCMS and tissue imaging
  • Dr Stephen Jenkins (MRC Centre for Inflammation Research) – Peritoneal disease – impact of immune cell populations and gender differences.

Partners and Funders (current)

  • 2016-2021: MRC Programme Grant. Androgens and women’s health: developing new therapies for endometriosis. £ 1,813,379.
  • 2016-2018: MRC Asset Sharing Scheme. CB2 agonists as a novel treatment for women with endometriosis-associated pain. PI. £302,097.
  • 2016-2020: MOMENDO, H2020-MSCA-RISE-2015. Edinburgh lead. Consortium of six EU and two non-EU partners. 346,500 Euros.
  • 2016-2018: Wellbeing of Women. Novel repurposing of anticancer drugs to treat endometriosis. AW Horne (PI), PTK Saunders, P Fowler, C Becker, D Hapangama, K Zondervan, S Sundar, MC Jones, E Greaves. £198,864.
  • 2016-2021: Mass Spectrometry imaging in translational endocrine research, 202794/Z/16/Z. Wellcome Trust Multiuser Equipment Grant. Co-I. £793,450. [PI Andrew].
  • 2015-2016: Bayer Pharma ‘Grants for Targets’ Title ‘A role for mast cells in oestrogen-dependent nociception in endometriosis?’ 50,000 Euros
  • 2012-2016: MRC Developmental Clinical Studies. Reversing endometrial glucocorticoid deficiency in heavy menstrual bleeding. CoI £1,423,676 [PI Critchley]
  • 2011-2017: MRC Programme Grant. Impact of oestrogens and androgens on immune cells, the vasculature and reproductive stroma.  £3,811,883 [G1100356/1]
  • Current Funding to support individual trainees
  • 2014-2018: PhD Studentship. Phoebe Kirkwood. Tissue Repair Programme. Funded by MRC DTG to UoE. ‘Mechanisms Responsible For Scarless Repair And Regeneration Of Endometrium’. £67,750.
  • 2014-2017: Clinical Research Fellowship; Dr Peter Sanderson. CRUK Centre Grant. ‘Early Diagnosis and Treatment Strategies for Endometrial Cancer’ £170,000.

Scientific Themes

Steroid hormone receptors, intracrinology, endometrial cancer, endometrial hyperplasia, oestrogen, androgen.

Technology Expertise

Mouse model of menstruation (scarless repair), primary human cell cultures (3 D culture systems); immune cell dynamics (repair, peritoneum, endometriosis); transgenic mouse models; genomic studies; image analysis.