Centre for Inflammation Research

Professor Philippa Saunders

Philippa Saunders' group are exploring the mechanisms responsible for sex steroids 'master regulators' of health impacts on repair, regeneration and cell replication in both healthy and diseased reproductive and other tissues.

Professor Philippa Saunders

Chair of Reproductive Steroids & Director of Postgraduate Research for CMVM

  • Centre for Inflammation Research

Contact details

Group Members

  • Douglas Gibson - Senior Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Ioannis Simitsidellis - Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Frances Collins - Laboratory Manager
  • Arantza Esnal-Zufiaurre - Research Support
  • Olympia Kelepouri - Research Support
  • Peter Sanderson - CRUK Research Fellow/PhD studentship 2014-2017
  • Phoebe Kirkwood - MRC Tissue Repair PhD programme 2014-2018
  • Jennifer Devlin - Research Nurse


Sex steroids are synthesised and secreted by the gonads and adrenals as well as peripheral tissues, eg adipose and skin. Local concentrations of steroids are also modulated within target tissues, a feature of human tissues known as 'intracrinology' which has been implicated in development of cancers. Steroids can regulate tissue function by binding to receptors that function as ligand activated transcription factors within the nucleus with cell-specific effects dependent upon recruitment of a 'cocktail' of co-factors. Steroid receptors including those that recognise oestrogens may also participate in membrane-initiated steroid signaling (MISS) pathways which are typically rapid and thought to be important for vascular function. Sex steroids have both direct and indirect effects on immune cells and inflammatory processes.

Research Overview

Image of Dynamic changes in the location and phenotype of monocytes during endometrial wound healing
Dynamic changes in the location and phenotype of monocytes during endometrial wound healing

Reproductive tissues in both men and women display remarkable properties of resilience and repair that are regulated by steroids. During a women's reproductive life the endometrium found within the luminal portion of the uterus (womb) retains a remarkable degree of developmental plasticity that allows it to adapt to the challenges imposed by the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. During each menstrual cycle the luminal portion of the tissue is shed at menses, an event that is immediately preceded by a marked inflammatory response characterized by increased numbers of immune cells and a 'perfect storm' of cytokines and prostaglandins. Remarkably, repair of the surface 'wound' is both rapid and scarless; this is followed by rapid regeneration of stromal and epithelial compartments accompanied by active angiogenesis.  We have developed a mouse model of endometrial wound healing that mimics the events during the human menstrual cycle [see slide summary of the model]. The results from our recent studies have revealed dynamic changes in the phenotype and location of monocytes/macrophages (see picture opposite - click link below for larger version).


Women's health disorders including heavy periods, endometrial cancer and endometriosis all have their origins in endometrial malfunction. We are working closely with clinical colleagues to improve both diagnosis and treatment of these disorders that affect many millions of women and their families. These initiatives have included the development of a substantial resource of human tissues and primary cells, formation of an Endometriosis Centre, funding from Pharma and funding for several clinical trials.

Further information on our work:

Research in a nutshell video

Biographical Profile

I obtained a PhD from the University of Cambridge and then undertook postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Florida and the Institute of Zoology in London. After coming to Edinburgh I established an independent research group within the MRC Human Reproductive Sciences Unit exploring the mechanisms that underlie steroid-dependent impacts on reproductive health in men and women. I served as Head of the University Centre for Reproductive Biology from 2007-2011 and Inaugural Director of the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health (2011-2012). In 2012 I was appointed as Dean of Postgraduate Research for the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.

Honours and Awards

  • 2011   Fellow, Society of Biology
  • 2012   Fellow, Academy of Medical Sciences
  • 2015   Fellow ad eundem, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Other Responsiblities

External Committees

Medical Research Council

  • Population and Systems Medicine Board (PSMB) 2012-2016
  • Medical Research Foundation Equipment Panel 2014

Academy of Medical Sciences

  • Registrar 2016-2020
  • Academic Careers Committee 2012-2016
  • Task group 'Impact of Big Science on Career Progression' 2014-2016

Society for Endocrinology

  • Science Committee 2012-2016
  • Finance Committee 2014-

Royal Society of London

  • Newton Fellowship Review Panel 2014-
University of Edinburgh Committees
  • College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine Strategy Committee 2012-
  • Senatus Researcher Experience Committee 2012-2017 [Chair, REC Task Group 'Early Career Researchers' 2013]
  • College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine Postgraduate Student Management Committee 2012-
  • Scientific Advisory Board, The University of Edinburgh Tommy’s Centre for Fetal and Maternal Health 2008-
  • Ethical Review Panel The University of Edinburgh Biological Services 2003-
Translational Research Activity

2013-  Ithus. Spin Out Company. (co-founders Andrew Horne, Philippa Saunders, Erin Greaves). Pump priming from Bioquarter £25,000 (Bioquarter champion Mike Finnen)

Society membership
  • 1979-           Society for the Study of Fertility
  • 1987-           British Society for Endocrinology
  • 1990-           British Society for Cell Biology
  • 1993-           Society of the Study of Reproduction (USA)
  • 1997-           Endocrine Society USA
  • 2006-           Member SET (Women in science, engineering and technology)
  • 2009-           Society for Gynecological Investigation (USA)
  • 2010-           Institute of Biology

Public Engagement

Chair, Public Talk at the Edinburgh Science Festival April 2014

Chair UoE Public lecture series 'Our Changing World'

Speaker, Public Talk Edinburgh Science Festival April 2012 'Sex steroids: bodies, babies and brains'


Sources of Funding

Society of Endocrinology

More information on funding at Philippa Saunders' Research Explorer profile.