H2B2 People and Projects


Please contact Professor Dickson,  with a short entry along the lines found in the boxes below, if you would like to be profiled on the H2B2 website.

Click on the boxes below to read more about the research interests and projects of the following people:

Research theme Reid scholarship holder 2014

Research Theme Reid Scholarship holder 2013/14

Jennifer Cole

Supervisors: Dr Chris Watkins (Computer Science) and Dr Dorothea Kleine (Geography).

Real-time epidemiology and epidemic containment using mobile communications and social media

Cole’s PhD looks at the use of digital technologies, including surveillance and social media, during epidemics and pandemics to better understand and potentially influence the behaviour of individuals at risk of contracting serious infectious disease so that the spread of infection can be slowed or contained.

This includes researching:

  • how people at risk of infection search for information
  • how and why they trust information found on the internet and social media
  • how they are able to absorb, analyse and process that information 
  • what drives them to act (or not to act) on the information
  • how these drivers can be strengthened and/or undermined,  particularly during situations deemed to be public health emergencies on a national or international scale, such as pandemic flu.

More information on the Research Theme Reid Scholarships

Professor Simon Cutting - Next generation vaccines

From Biological Sciences, Professor Simon Cutting has recently developed a new pioneering method of oral vaccinations, which can boost immunity to TB and influenza as well as prevent C. difficile. This follows on from his research into the biology of the bacterium Bacillus subtilis.

Find out more

Professor Jonathan Gabe - Sociology of healthcare

Professor Gabe’s research interests cover three broad areas:

  1. Healthcare organisation covers sociological analyses of policy changes within the NHS, including the growth of consumerism and patient partnership, the blurring of the boundary with private medicine and the loss of trust in medicine and the medical profession. Recently funded projects include: ‘Managing medical regulation and performance’ (ERSC), which looked at the contribution of physician assistants to primary care in England on behalf of the NIHR/SDO and ‘How Australians navigate the healthcare maze: the differential capacity to choose’ (Australian Research Council).
  2. Sociology of acute and chronic illness looks at the experience of asthma by different social groups (children, young people and factory workers), the risks and benefits of treatment for people with cystic fibrosis and families with children with epilepsy. Recently funded projects include ‘Patients’ and professionals’ views of telemonitoring in heart failure’ (NIHR); ‘Children, perceptions of embodied risk and asthma’ (Higher Education Authority of London) and ‘Diabetes self-management’ (South West Academic Network).
  3. Sociology of biotechnology focuses on pharmaceuticals, i.e. patients’ experience of treatments for anxiety and depressions, as well as the use of hypnotics and other sleep medications.  A recent grant from ESRC, the New Zealand Health Research Council and the Marsland Fund funded research into ‘medications in everyday life’.
  4. Professor Gabe also looks at diagnostic regenerative technology, which covers the emerging relationships between elite sport and sport-related diagnostic and repair technologies. A recent ESRC grant funded ‘biomedical technology and sport’.
Find out more 

Professor Dawn Langdon - Cognitive assessment in multiple sclerosis


Professor of Neuropsychology Dawn Langdon is academic director of the DClinPsy course at Royal Holloway. Professor Langdon’s research interests include psychological aspects of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She focuses on:

  • measurement of cognition
  • management of cognitive deficits to reduce impact on disease management and quality of life
  • investigating the cognitive profile of different disease subtypes and stages.

She has been involved as neuropsychology lead in a number of international drug trials in MS.

Cognitive assessment in MS

Professor Langdon is currently co-chair of theInternational Cognitive Assessment in MS, which has recommended a cognitive assessment for MS that is being validated on an international basis involving 20 countries. She is a member of the NIH NINDS common data elements group for MS cognition, leader of the CogniPlus study (an observational study into exercise and cognition in MS funded by Bayer Healthcare), MSCODES3 (a consortium developing apps to collect dense information on health status in MS) and steering group member on a 21 Year Up study investigating long term MS outcomes including survival, disability and cognition.

Find out more

Dr Anita LeHeron - HIV vaccine development 

Decades after the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as the cause of the fatal condition Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDs), there is no effective vaccine against HIV despite public health initiatives. Millions of people still die from AIDs each year and morbidity and mortality is often worse in poorer nations. HAART drugs regimes have been a breakthrough in extending the life-span of infected individuals but they aren’t without side-effects and HIV can become multi-drug resistant. For reasons of expense and logistics these drugs are also not freely available in some of the worst-affected countries.

Currently, HIV as a highly recombinant and deadly virus is considered too high risk for a live/weakened vaccine and trials of single traditional vaccines have not shown efficiency in human clinical trials. However, in 2012 the RV144 trial (a clinical HIV vaccine trial combining two vaccines that failed on their own), showed an infection rate 31.2 per cent lower in those treated with the vaccine than the group who received placebo.

The UK HIV Vaccine consortium (UKHVC), funded by the Wellcome Trust, seeks to bring together groups working on different types of HIV vaccines to produce new combination strategies. The Biological Sciences Department (of which Dr Anita LeHeron is part) at Royal Holloway generated Chimp Adenovirus vectors bearing two HIV genes. These vectors are currently being tested in small animal models for immunogenicity. The hope is that the best performing of these vectors will be used in human vaccine trials in the next two years.

Find out more 

Dr Linda Popplewell - Gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Dr Linda Popplewell’s work concentrates on the development of a gene therapy for the severe muscle-wasting disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). DMD affects one in 3,500 male births making it the most common and one of the severest forms of muscular dystrophy. 

Clinical symptoms of the disease manifest around three years of age and, with progressing muscle weakness, patients are often wheelchair bound by their early teen years and suffer cardiac/respiratory failure in mid to late 20s.

The work in the Biological Science lab is focused on developing genetic-based therapeutic strategies aimed at the enhancement of the DMD phenotype. These include the re-introduction of a copy of the DMD gene into an affected tissue through a viral vector; correction of the mutated DMD transcript by exon skipping and direct modification of the DMD gene at a chromosomal level through genome editing. All these approaches have hurdles to overcome if a comprehensive and effective treatment for DMD is to be found.

All muscles including cardiac, skeletal and smooth muscle need to be targeted; therefore any potential treatment would need to be administered systematically. In addition, any treatment needs a long-term effect, with the possibility of re-administration while avoiding any potentially detrimental immune responses to the vector or transgene.

Find out more 

Professor Matthew Thirlwall - Isotope geochemistry

My main research is in the use of isotopic and chemical tracers to investigate interactions between earth systems. I'm responsible for thermal ionisation and multi-collector ICP mass spectrometers and ancillary chemical preparation laboratories. 

This equipment can be used in human-health related studies.  I have personally been involved in research on depleted uranium exposure, on calcium and iron uptake in relation to osteoporosis and iron supplements in pregnancy,  forensics and food tracing (isotopic compositions can be used to determine sources of forensic and food materials).

 Find out more

Professor Robin Walker - Cognitive neuroscience

My research is in the broad field of Cognitive Neuroscience - the discipline that aims to understand cognitive functions in terms of the underlying neural substrate of the brain. Professor Walker's  research centres on the human eye-movement system and involves behavioural studies of eye movements (called saccades) in normal human subjects and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies (fMRI). 

Behavioural studies use a video-based eye-tracker to record eye movements performed under a range of different stimulus manipulations designed to investigate decision processes involved in saccade target selection. A recent grant from the Leverhulme Trust (2013-2016) has funded a three-year project to apply fMRI techniques to investigate the role of a small sub-cortical structure (called the superior colliculus ) in saccade programming. 

Professor Walker's interest in the role of eye movements in visual cognition has resulted in the development of an iPad app (the MD_evReader ) designed to improve reading in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The app enables text, from eBooks, to be scrolled and presented in large font sizes and is designed to enhance reading under conditions of eccentric viewing (without having to move the eyes). The app is now available on iTunes and is being promoted by the Macular Society. 

Find out more

Professor Robin Williams

Great leaps forward in scientific discovery often come from novel, unexpected or accidental discoveries. Our research centres on one such novel approach, using the model Dictyostelium discoideum, to gain better insight into several difficult problems in biomedicine. These simple soil-dwelling amoebas, which occur naturally in the leaf litter of forest floors in temperate climates, enable researchers to examine the cellular and molecular processes involved in cell movement and differentiation due to their life cycles.

Professor Williams’ research has taken advantage of the range of experimental approaches available in Dictyostelium (but not possible with traditional (animal) models) to try to better understand several diseases and conditions and to find improved medicines or less toxic compounds. In many cases, the researchers from the Biological Sciences Department have successfully translated their discoveries from Dictyostelium to preclinical mammalian systems.

The core areas of their research are:

  1. The analysis of epilepsy treatments, including the identification of molecular targets for current epilepsy drugs,  and the development of improved treatments.
  2. The development of new tools for investigating the role of presenilin proteins in normal cell function and in Alzheimer’s disease.
  3. The analysis of the molecular mechanism of bipolar disorder treatments  and their effect on signalling pathways.
  4. The development of new animal replacement models for tastant and toxicology testing, and related pharmacogenetics research.
  5. The characterisation of new therapeutic pathways targeted by valproic acid.

Find out more 

Dr. Rafael J. Yáñez-Muñoz - Advanced gene and cell therapy/ rare diseases

The Yáñez Advanced Gene and Cell Therapy laboratory (AGCTlab) works on gene and cell therapy for common and rare diseases. The main interest of the AGCTlab is in the development of safer methods relying on either episomal vectors or genome surgery (genome editing or gene repair).  Dr Yáñez’s research team is particularly interested in the treatment of spinal muscular dystrophy, spinal injury (both of which are rare diseases) and Parkinson’s disease. Using genome surgery the research team are developing treatments for the rare primary immunodeficiencies Duchenne muscular dystrophy and spinal muscle atrophy.

You can find out more about the methods Dr Yáñez applies on his research profile

Rare diseases

Rare diseases are central to Dr Yáñez’s work. 3,000 people in England alone will be affected by a rare disease in their lifetime. That’s because, even though each rare disease affects fewer than one in 2,000 people, there are 6,000 to 8,000 rare diseases. At least 20 per cent of the health budget will go to look after these patients, mostly providing symptomatic and palliative care, because there are hardly any curative treatments.

There is finally widespread understanding of the importance of rare diseases with countries developing Rare Disease National Plans (see the recently published UK National Strategy for Rare Diseases, which will provide the basis for the National Plans in the UK). International collaboration, always important in research but critical for rare diseases, has created the International Rare Disease Research Consortium (IRDiRC), with declared goals of developing diagnostic methods for most rare diseases and treatments for 200 of them by 2020. Gene and stem cell therapy research has also provided some curative treatments, with many more in the pipeline. 

However, it still takes five years for some people to be properly diagnosed, the care for most individuals affected is far from optimal, and in most cases there is no curative treatment. Raising awareness is critical, which is the goal of our annual international Rare Disease Day, held on the last day of February (on a leap year it’s a rare day!) This event is organised by Dr Yáñez.

More Information

AGCTlab webpage

Rare Disease Day

BBC5 live interview podcast on Genome Editing

Video podcast interview on Gene and Cell Therapy 



Royal Holloway, University of London logo