Edinburgh Infectious Diseases
EID logo 2019

Professor Keith Matthews elected Fellow of the Royal Society

Keith Matthews, Professor of Parasite Biology in the Institute of Immunology and Infection Research at the University of Edinburgh, has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his outstanding contribution to science.

He is among 52 distinguished scientists announced as new Fellows of the Royal Society, also including University of Edinburgh academic Professor Andrew Jackson, in the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine.

The Fellowship is made up of the most eminent scientists, engineers and technologists from the UK and the Commonwealth.

Sleeping Sickness

Keith Matthews’s studies on the lifecycle of trypanosome parasites have led to significant advances in understanding disease severity and spread in Sub-Saharan Africa.

African trypanosome parasites are spread by the Tsetse fly and are responsible for epidemics of sleeping sickness. Over sixty million people are at risk of the disease, which can be fatal if left untreated.

The parasites’ most serious impact is the devastating disease ‘nagana’ in cattle and other livestock, which causes major agricultural losses and economic hardship in afflicted regions.

Tackling the disease is difficult as there are no vaccines and existing drugs for cattle are old and have dangerous side effects.

Keith’s research is tackling some of the most important questions in trypanosome biology.

Identifying vulnerable points in the parasite’s lifecycle could lead to new ways to limit the spread of the disease or its severity through drug therapy.

Stumpy form trypanosomes
The stumpy form of Trypanosome parasites (green), with DNA shown in blue and the flagellum in red. Image credit Keith Matthews and Eleanor Silvester (c).

Parasite Transmission

His work is leading to a better understanding of how the parasites communicate with one another to optimize their survival and transmission.

Recent work by his group has revealed that disease spread may be boosted by social interactions between parasites and competition between species could influence disease severity.

He is also studying how the parasites detect environmental signals in blood and tsetse flies to ensure their life-cycle progression. 

In particular his research has unravelled the processes that allow parasites to change into a ‘stumpy’ form, which maximises their ability to spread to tsetse flies.

Over the years our work has unravelled how sleeping sickness parasites are transmitted between hosts in Africa. Understanding how these single-celled parasites communicate with one another in our bloodstream and detect those messages and respond to them has demonstrated just how sophisticated, even elegant, these parasites are despite the devastating diseases they cause in both humans and livestock.

Prof Keith MatthewsProfessor of Parasite Biology, Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, University of Edinburgh


Keith is currently Professor of Parasite Biology and Dean of Bioscience Partnerships at the University of Edinburgh.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2014 and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2018. 

He has received the British Society for Parasitology C. A. Wright medal (2008) and the Sanofi-Institut Pasteur International research award for tropical and neglected diseases (2015).

About the most recent recognition of his achievements, in typically modest style Keith said:

I am humbled to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.  As always in science, our research reflects a team effort and I am delighted to acknowledge the fantastic contributions and collaborative spirit of my present and past lab members.

Royal Society Fellows

There are approximately 1,700 Fellows and Foreign Members, including around 70 Nobel Laureates.

Each year up to 52 Fellows and up to 10 Foreign Members are elected from a group of around 800 candidates who are proposed by the existing Fellowship.

Related Links

The Matthews Lab

School of Biological Sciences