MRC Human Genetics Unit
Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit


Critical care clinician joins MRC Human Genetics Unit

Simon Biddie wins NES/CSO lectureship to support study of lung inflammation: September 2020

Portrait of Dr Simon Biddie
Dr Simon Biddie

The MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh is delighted to welcome Dr Simon Biddie, a clinician–researcher whose clinical interests in intensive care tie closely to his research programme, aimed at understanding lung inflammation.

Dr Biddie was recently awarded a NES/CSO clinical lectureship allowing him to split time evenly between his work and training in clinical intensive care and his research. We spoke to him about his new research programme.

What motivates your research?

“When working in intensive care it is clear that inflammation underlies many of the major challenges that our patients face, including sepsis, pneumonia and acute respiratory distress. I believe that understanding the molecular basis of inflammation and how its long term effects in the lungs lead to morbidity could give vital leads for new treatment approaches.”

What brought you to Edinburgh?

“My PhD on the glucocorticoid receptor investigated signalling pathways. I was aware of work in Wendy Bickmore’s lab (MRC Human Genetics Unit) that used exactly the tools and techniques that I want to use to drive my own research. Talking to Kenny Baillie (Roslin Institute), who has common interests in critical care and sepsis at a critical care conference, I came to believe that Edinburgh would be the ideal home for my research and clinical training with its close-knit and collaborative clinical and research communities?”

What will the NES/CSO clinical lectureship allow you to do?

“I want to study the effects of different inflammatory stimuli on how genes are controlled in both cells and animal models to identify pathways that could be targets for intervention. I am keen to study lineage tracing – that is how cells change their cellular fate in response to inflammation. Local facilities for single cell study should allow me to do this. We have access to some human genetic data from acute respiratory distress syndrome which can guide our approach.”

What challenges do you expect to face?

“There is no perfect model for human lung inflammation. The best we can do is use carefully selected cell and mouse models. These can be genetically modified which is vital for the approaches that I want to take. I am fortunate to collaborate with Neil Henderson (Institute for Regeneration and Repair) who has one such model, and there are other local experts in Edinburgh who will be ideal collaborators. One experiment or model will not be enough to draw a conclusion – I will need to come at the problem from multiple angles.”

What are your hopes for the future?

“I believe the work I am undertaking could be applicable to multiple conditions that we see in the critical care setting, including COVID-19. The pathways we identify in these models could be explored in other settings and in patients. For example we could look for cells linked to inflammation in the blood of those in critical care to see if the same molecular signals appear to be affected and link these to genetics. I hope that a clearer of understanding of the path that cells take during inflammation can shed light on what treatments might change that path to improve patient outcomes.”