Dr Fiona Houston

Senior Research Fellow/Group Leader


Dr Fiona Houston graduated from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in 1989, and spent four years working as a veterinarian in Canada and the UK. In 1997, she obtained her PhD for research on the immunopathogenesis of the cattle parasite Theileria parva, which was carried out at the Institute for Animal Health, Compton. She remained at the Institute for Animal Health to lead a new group studying the pathogenesis of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), or prion diseases, in sheep. This led to a number of important findings, including the first demonstration of efficient transmission of TSEs by blood transfusion, and experimental transmission of BSE to sheep previously considered to be genetically resistant to TSEs. In 2007, Dr Houston moved to the University of Glasgow Veterinary School, initially supported by a Royal Society Relocation fellowship, and then as a senior lecturer in Large Animal Clincial Sciences & Public Health. She was appointed to her current position of Group Leader in the Roslin Institute in 2013.


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Glasgow, 1998. "The potential role of superantigens in the pathogenesis of bovine theileriosis"

Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery, University of Edinburgh, 1989.

Bachelor of Veterinary Science (intercalated), University of Edinburgh, 1989.

Professional Qualifications

Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (non-practising)

Responsibilities & affiliations

Chair of Large Animal Steering Group, Roslin Institute, R(D)SVS.

Roslin Institute/UoE representative on Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) members committee.

Member of the Independent Archive Advisory Group (Defra) for the Animal Plant and Health Agency Biological Archive Group (formerly the TSE Tissue Archive).

Management of Containment Level 3 (derogated) TSE laboratory, Roslin Institute.

Member of Easter Bush Genetic Modification & Biological Safety Committee.

Member of R(D)SVS Farms Committee.


Undergraduate teaching

Lecturing on prion disease and assessments for the following Honours modules:

Molecular Biology of Disease (BSc Hons)

Infectious Diseases (BSc Hons)

Neurodegeneration, Obesity and Cancer: Genetics and Beyond (BSc Hons)

Postgraduate teaching

Lecturing on prion disease for Animal Biosciences (MSc)

Supervision & co-supervision of PhD students

Supervision of MScR students and MSc projects

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Current PhD students supervised

Amy Robinson 

Lorena Sordo Sordo 

Lindsey Waddell 

Past PhD students supervised

Ciara Farren 


Research summary

Molecular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of infectious and neurological diseases of ruminant livestock.

Current research interests

Prion diseases of ruminants, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scrapie and chronic wasting disease (CWD), are important because of their zoonotic potential, and the economic impact of control measures and trade restrictions on the farming industry. As ruminants are natural hosts of these diseases, they also provide valuable models for comparative studies that can yield insights into related human diseases, such as variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD). The research in my group focuses on mechanisms that contribute to the pathogenesis and transmission of prion diseases in ruminants. We pioneered the use of sheep as a model to study transmission of prions by blood transfusion, and are currently using the extensive archive of blood samples from these studies to develop and test diagnostic assays, including novel biomarkers. Another area of interest is mechanisms underlying long term persistence of infection in individuals in the absence of signs of disease (subclinical infection), potentially representing a reservoir for future transmission. We are also investigating the effect of prion protein (PrP) genetic variation in modulating pathogenesis and susceptibility to chronic wasting disease (CWD) in European deer/cervid species, following the emergence of the disease in Norway in 2016. In addition to our work on prion diseases, we also study the comparative neuropathology of aging in ruminants and other domesticated animals.

Past research interests

Tissue/cell specific cofactors that facilitate prion replication. Effects of co-infection with BSE and scrapie in sheep. Effect of age on susceptibility to oral infection with BSE in sheep. Genetic susceptibility to BSE and scrapie in sheep. Role of PrP sequence variation on innate immune function in sheep. Immunopathogenesis of Theileria parva in cattle. Cattle T cell receptor repertoire in response to infection.

Current project grants

2021-2024: ERA-NET International Coordination of Research on Infectious Animal Diseases co-funded project – “Tackling Chronic Wasting Disease in Europe” (project coordinator; 5 partner institutions in France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Spain). Duration: 36 months. Amount awarded: €1,639,000 (BBSRC BB/V019880/1 - £373,928)
2017-2021: Department of Health (PR-R17-0916-23006) - “Comparative evaluation of the performance of proposed diagnostic tests for vCJD in preclinical blood samples.” Duration: 36 months. Amount awarded: £882,178
Mar 2021-Aug 2021: Department of Health (PR-R17-0916-23006) - Variation to Contract for 6 month extension to project due to delays caused by Covid-19 restrictions. Amount awarded: £85,868

Past project grants

2019: Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF3) – Workshop on “Large animal models and imaging in biomedical research”. Amount awarded: £4,000
2017: Defra (Ref: SE2023) – “Investigating the susceptibility of British deer to chronic wasting disease.” Duration: 23/01/17 – 31/03/17. Amount awarded: £24,563
2017: British Deer Society (MSc project) – “Modelling the susceptibility of British deer to chronic wasting disease.” Duration: 12 months. Amount awarded: £26,782
2014-2019: Department of Health (Ref: 007/0162) – “The effect of leucodepletion on transmission of BSE by transfusion of sheep blood components.”
o Variation to Contract – Duration: 24/09/14 – 31/03/17. Amount awarded: £390,412
o Variation to Contract – “Detecting subclinical levels of CJD infection in animal models.” Duration: 01/09/15 – 31/03/16. Amount awarded: £176,124
o Variation to Contract – Duration: 01/01/17 – 31/03/19. Amount awarded: £367,140
2014-2019: NHS Blood & Transplant. Extension to “Evaluation of red cell prion filters in combination with leucoreduction in removing infectivity associated with the BSE agent in sheep.” (Reference: NBS1024/G/AP) Amount awarded: £24,494
2007-2009: Royal Society Relocation Fellowship (University of Glasgow) – “The potential role of phagocytic cells in resistance to scrapie in sheep”. Duration: 2 years. Total awarded: £203,810
2006: BBSRC – “Early events in scrapie pathogenesis: the role of phagocytic cells in scrapie susceptible and resistant sheep”. (Reference: BB/D00084X/1) Total awarded: £225,347 (project not completed due to relocation to University of Glasgow).
2006-2012: Department Of Health - “The effect of leucodepletion on transmission of BSE by transfusion of sheep blood components”. (Reference: 007/0120). Duration: 6 years. Total awarded: £3,514,976