Elaine Emmerson



  • 2023-present: Lecturer, The Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Institute for Regeneration and Repair, The University of Edinburgh
  • 2017-2023: Chancellor’s Fellow, The Centre for Regenerative Medicine, The University of Edinburgh
  • 2013-2016: California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Dr. Sarah Knox, Program in Craniofacial Biology, University of California San Francisco, USA
  • 2010-2012: The David Hammond Charitable Foundation Postdoctoral Research Associate with Dr. Matthew Hardman, The Healing Foundation Centre, The University of Manchester
  • 2006-2010: Ph.D. Cell Biology with Prof. Gillian Ashcroft, The University of Manchester
  • 2001-2004: B.Sc. Genetics (Hons), The University of Liverpool


Ph.D. Cell Biology (University of Manchester)

B.Sc. (Hons) Genetics (University of Liverpool)

Responsibilities & affiliations

Academic Lead for Public Engagement for the Institute for Regeneration and Repair

Chair of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine External Seminar Series

Undergraduate teaching

  • Undergraduate Biology of Regeneration Lecturer (2017-present)

Postgraduate teaching

  • Tissue Repair PhD Discussion Group Leader (2017-2021)
  • CRM first year PhD student Discussion Group Leader (2017-present)
  • PhD Medical Sciences & Translational Research with Integrated Engagement for Impact Lecturer (2020-2022)
  • Martin Lee PhD Exam Board Moderator (2021-present)
  • Precision Medicine PhD Programme Steering Committee (2022-present)
  • MScR Tissue Repair and Regenerative Medicine, Theme Leader and Exam Board Moderator (2019-present)
  • MSc Regenerative Medicine: Clinical and Industrial Delivery Lecturer (2017-2019, 2021)

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Research summary

Manipulating the stem cell niche to promote regeneration

Radiotherapy is a life-saving treatment for those with cancer; the majority of those with head and neck cancer will receive radiotherapy. Although radiotherapy, in the main, succeeds in treating the cancer, a severe side-effect is damage, including scarring or fibrosis, to healthy tissue. Cells which produce saliva can be destroyed, resulting in a multitude of oral problems, such as a difficulty in eating and speaking, all of which can adversely affect a patient’s quality of life. Existing treatments concentrate only on short-term relief of such side-effects. My group aim to develop a regenerative strategy to restore salivary function.

We have previously demonstrated that nerves surround the salivary glands and interact with stem cells, unspecialised cells that can develop into mature cells following injury, to promote regeneration. Importantly, both the gland and the nerves surrounding it are damaged by radiotherapy. My research group are working to develop technologies to mimic these nerve signals to control stem cells, inflammatory cells and senescent cells, to promote organ regeneration and greatly improve patient quality of life.

Current research interests

We have previously shown that cholinergic muscarinic signalling maintains SOX2+ progenitor cells in the SG. In collaboration with Dr. Asier Unciti-Broceta of IGC, we are testing the use of a novel technology to safely deliver a cholinergic drug to radiation-injured SG. This project aims to develop a completely new way of delivering a pharmacological therapy (based on neuronal signalling) to radiotherapy-injured SG without the typical systemic side-effects associated with cholinergic drugs. Macrophages are attractive therapeutic targets due to their unrivalled capacity to drive tissue repair and regeneration. We have used a suite of complementary approaches to map the heterogeneity of the salivary gland macrophage compartment throughout development and following radiotherapy injury . Furthermore, we have demonstrated an essential role for macrophages in the clearance of cells with DNA damage, as well as effective tissue repair following injury, absence of which leads to salivary gland dysfunction. Taken together, our data place macrophages at the heart of effective tissue repair following radiation-induced injury in the salivary gland and provide strong rationale for exploring the therapeutic potential of manipulating these cells to promote tissue repair. Using genetic lineage tracing we find that radiation injury alters SG macrophage replenishment kinetics, a phenomenon that parallels degeneration in SG architecture and function, which is suggestive of a failure of the supportive niche over time. Given that macrophages are considered to be in constant crosstalk with their structural neighbours, these data suggest that the effects of radiation may alter the SG niche so that it cannot support macrophage longevity/function; and conversely, that macrophages cannot support the SG niche. We are exploring the niche-derived factors that control SG macrophage maintenance and function, how these change in the context of SG injury, regeneration and degeneration and whether exogenous supplement can rescue this effect, and could ultimately provide new therapeutic avenues to target macrophages to promote tissue regeneration.

Knowledge exchange

Direct Contribution

  • Media Engagement: featured on STV News at 6, the Edinburgh Evening News, the Fife Courier and the UoE EDIT magazine (2019)
  • Co-production for impact: Co-producer of patient and public workshops patient partners and local organisations (2022-2023)
  • Awarded an MRC Engagement in Science Activities seed Fund (2020)
  • Awarded a British Society for Immunology (BSI) Communicating & Engagement Grant (2023)
  • KE policy contribution: Represented the Oral Health Foundation at Mouth Cancer Action Month launch at Westminster (2019)


  • Academic Lead for Public Engagement for the Institute for Regeneration and Repair (2020-present)
  • Lead on ‘G-Lands: an out of body experience’ art-science public engagement project and exhibition (2019-2023)

Dissemination of Good Practice

  • Panel member for Edinburgh Science Festival, Animals in Scientific Research ‘The use of animals in scientific research’ discussion, which led to winning the Understanding Animal Research (UAR) Openness Award (2019)
  • Presented as part of Research Insights, The University of Edinburgh’s public lecture series (2021)

Current project grants

University of Edinburgh Chancellor's Fellowship (2017-date)
MRC Project Grant (2023-2026)
MRC Neuroimmunology Data Generation Award (2021-2024)
British Society for Immunology Communicating Grant (2023-2024)

Past project grants

RCUK/UKRI Innovation Fund Fellowship, UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP) (2018-2022)
Tenovus Scotland, Pilot Grant (2018-2020)
Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Funds (2017)
The Royal Society, Research Grant (2018)
MRC Engagement in Science Activities seed Fund (2020)
Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Funds (2020)
The Royal Society, Research Grant (2021)

View all 23 publications on Research Explorer

Invited speaker

November 2023   UKRMP Showcase, Edinburgh, UK

October 2023         Janus Seminar Series, Berlin, Germany

June 2023                A Cell for All Seasons: Macrophages in Health and Disease annual meeting, Edinburgh, UK

November 2022    Stem Cells UK 2021 meeting

May 2022                  The Manchester Immunology Group external seminar series

January 2021         Research Insights public lecture, The University of Edinburgh, College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

June 2019                Gordon Research Conference for Tissue Repair and Regeneration, New London, NH, USA

May 2019                  The Manchester Regenerative Medicine Network external seminar series, University of Manchester, UK

April 2019                 BSDB/BSCB Joint Spring meeting, Warwick, UK

November 2018     The Head and Neck Clinical Excellence Network Annual Meeting, Glasgow, UK

September 2017    NHS Lothian Head and Neck Cancer Research Group, St. John’s Hospital, Livingston, UK


  • Co-chair of the 2017 Salivary Glands & Exocrine Biology Gordon Research Seminar (TX, USA)
  • Co-organiser of the 2021 Tissue and Cell Engineering Society conference (Edinburgh)
  • Co-organiser of the 2022 Emerging Themes in Cell and Developmental Biology meeting (Denmark)

UKRI/MRC Molecular and Cellular Medicine Board (MCMB) (2023-2026)

UKRI/MRC Neuroimmunology Data Generation Award (2021-2023)

The University of Edinburgh/Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Funds (2020-2023)

Royal Society Research Grant (2019-2020)

Tenovus Scotland, Pilot Grant (2019-2020)

RCUK/UKRI Innovation Fund Fellowship, UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (2018-2021)

The University of Edinburgh/Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Funds (2017-2019)

The University of Edinburgh Chancellor’s Fellowship (2017-2023)

Calum Bain, Centre for Inflammation Research

Rebecca Gentek, Centre for Reproductive Health

Anthony Callanan, School of Engineering, The University of Edinburgh

Iain Nixon, Head and Neck Surgeon, NHS Lothian

UKRMP2 Engineered Cell Environment Hub 

Asier Unciti-Broceta, Institute of Genetics and Molecule Medicine, The University of Edinburgh

Clare Bennett, University College London

Marc Bajenoff, Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy