Dr Emily Watts
My research focuses on understanding the role of neutrophil metabolic signalling pathways in sensing the extracellular microenvironment and driving neutrophil phenotype and function in the lung.
Neutrophils are an essential component of the innate immune response, but inappropriate neutrophilic inflammation can contribute to the pathology of a number of inflammatory lung diseases such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Restoring the balance between functional immunity and pathological inflammation is an essential step in treating such diseases. Neutrophils were once considered a homogenous population of cells with limited functions, however, there is now increasing evidence that neutrophils are highly adaptable and that extracellular cues can drive alterations in neutrophil phenotype and function in tissues. Tissues neutrophils are biosynthetically active and their programme of protein synthesis has the potential to drive further inflammation. By understanding the intrinsic and extrinsic factors which determine neutrophil synthetic function, and therefore cellular identity, we aim to find new strategies to target pathological neutrophilic inflammation.
We have shown that tissue neutrophils are biosynthetically active and utilise extracellular proteins to fuel de novo protein synthesis. The neutrophil proteome is highly dynamic, with protein turnover regulating key process and defining effector functions at sites of injury. The mechanisms which determine the repertoire of neutrophil protein synthesis are unknown but the requirement for ATP and amino acids suggests a role for the nutrient-sensing kinases, AMPK and mTORC1 and the related proteolytic organelle, the lysosome. Neutrophils are non-proliferative but synthetically active cells and, as such, are subject to unique growth pressures. My research aims to identify role of the mTORC1/AMPK/lysosome axis in responding to these pressures and the factors downstream of them which drive protein synthesis in the neutrophil.
I completed my medical training in Cambridge and Edinburgh and my clinical training in London and Edinburgh. I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Clinical training Fellowship in 2015 and completed my PhD supervised by Sarah Walmsley and Moira Whyte, investigating the role of hypoxia in altering outcomes in neutrophilic lung inflammation. As a SCREDS clinical lecturer I completed my Respiratory training in South East Scotland while maintaining my research interests. This was supported by an Academy of Medical Sciences Starter Grant for clinical lecturers. I spent the first 6 months of my current Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, working with Chris Carlsten before returning to the Institute for Regeneration and Repair here in Edinburgh.