I received a B.Sc. in Pathobiology (1999) and PhD (2003) from the University of Reading, where I worked with Dr David Leake, in collaboration with Professor Giovanni Mann at King's College London, to investigate how cell death in the arterial wall contributes to the development of atherosclerosis. I subsequently moved to The Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at The University of Manchester to work in the laboratories of Professor John Aplin and Professor Phillip Baker. My postdoctoral research focused on how placental-derived trophoblast cells and uterine natural killer cells interact with and remodel the uterine spiral arteries during pregnancy. I also investigated the mechanisms that regulate trophoblast invasion, proliferation and survival. In 2010, I was awarded the prestigious Gabor Than Award for my contribution to the field of placentology.

In the same year, I was awarded a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship to develop the use of vascular homing peptides as a targeted drug delivery system in pregnancy. I spent 2011 working in the laboratory of Professor Erkki Ruoslahti, where I identified a series of novel placental homing peptides. Upon my return to Manchester, I sought to utilize these peptides to create biocompatible nanocarriers for targeted delivery of therapeutics to the placenta. In May 2013, my two PhD students and I won second prize of £10,000 in the OBR OneStart European business start-up competition, reflecting the continued success of my research programme.

Collaborators and affiliated staff

Staff and students:

Natalie Cureton, PhD student "Development of nanocarriers for targeted drug delivery to the placenta" Co-supervised with Prof Nicola Tirelli and Prof. John Aplin (2012-2016).

Ruhul Choudhury, PhD student "The cellular mechanisms of leukocyte-mediated decidual vascular remodelling" Co-supervised with Dr Rebecca Jones and Prof. John Aplin (2014-2017).

Sam Clark, PhD student "Synthetic biology of peptides" Co-supervised with Dr Curtis Dobson and Dr Chris Knight (2014-2017).

Ammar Mohammed, PhD student "Assessment of novel drugs for treating pre-term labour using a translational model" Co-supervised with Dr D Fischer and Prof. K Marshall (2015-2018).

Maitham Bahman, PhD student "Nanoparticles for delivery of vasodilators" Co-supervised with Dr C Hunter and Dr M Wareing (2015-2018).

Abobakr Abdel Rehim, "Creating synthetic membranes using tail anchored protein chimeras" PhD student


Internal and external collaborators:

Professor John Aplin, Professor Melissa Westwood, Dr Rebecca Jones
Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre, School of Medical and Human Sciences, University of Manchester, UK

Professor Kay Marshall, Dr Christy Hunter, Prof. Nicola Tirelli
School of Pharmacy, University of Manchester

Professor Curtis Dobson, Dr Chris Knight and Professor Stephen High
Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester

Dr Karen Forbes
University of Leeds

Professor Erkki Ruoslahti
Sanford Burnham Medical Research Insitiute, CA, USA

Dr Caroline Dunk and Professor Steve Lye
Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Toronto, Canada

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Methodological knowledge

Cell and tissue culture; primary cell isolation; microdissection; immunohistochemistry; proliferation, viability and apoptosis assays; cell cycle analysis; protease activity assays; ELISA; flow cytometry; pressure myography; fluorescence, timelapse and confocal microscopy; RNA interference; immunoprecipitation; western blotting; qRT-PCR; LDL isolation and oxidation; HPLC; bacterial culture; phage display.


Lecturer in Pharmaceutics


  • BSc (1st Class Hons) Pathobiology, University of Reading, 1999
  • PhD, University of Reading, 2003

Research interests

Placental homing peptides and targeted drug delivery

Suboptimal development in utero remains a problem despite advances in antenatal care. Development of drugs for use in pregnancy is severely lacking as pregnant women are considered a high risk cohort. This has created a drug drought in obstetrics: the only treatments currently available are early delivery and neonatal intensive care. The ability to deliver pharmaceuticals to the materno-fetal interface offers two prospects: acute treatment to extend time in utero and offset early delivery, and intervention early in gestation to prevent later fetal pathology.

In collaboration with Prof. Erkki Ruoslahti at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, we have identified a series of "placental homing peptides" that selectively bind to the surface of the placenta and the uterine vasculature when administered intravenously. These peptides do not detrimentally affect placental development or pregnancy outcome and we are now exploiting them to create nanocarriers and nanoscale therapeutics for targeted enhancement of placental function. We believe that targeted drug delivery will reduce the risks and side effects associated with systemic administration of drugs in pregnancy, and advance the field of obstetric therapeutics.

My group is currently:

  • testing the ability of homing peptide-decorated liposomes to selectively deliver growth factors to the placenta or deliver vasodilators to the uterine vasculature
  • developing placental homing peptide-microRNA inhibitor conjugates for targeted enhancement of placental growth signalling
  • assessing the potential of targeted liposomes as vehicles for delivery of siRNA
  • using an in silico approach to optimise placental homing peptide function
  • exploring different ways to display targeting peptides on the surface of liposomes  


Trophoblast invasion and vascular remodelling in pregnancy

During the first twenty weeks of pregnancy, extravillous trophoblasts (EVT), an invasive subset of cells derived from the placenta, invade the wall of the uterus and remodel the uterine spiral arteries. This process causes the arteries to become permanently dilated structures and ensures that blood is delivered to developing placenta at an optimal rate. Leukocytes called uterine natural killer (uNK) cells are observed in close association with the spiral arteries, prior to the arrival of EVT and also contribute the vascular remodelling process.

We have shown that uNK cells play a role in priming the spiral arteries to aid subsequent colonization by EVT and are now investigating their function in more detail, including:

  • the molecular mechanisms regulating uNK cell recruitment into the spiral arteries
  • how uNK cells mediate breakdown of the vascular extracellular matrix 


Novel therapeutics for prevention of pre-term labour

Understanding the processes that control onset of labour is critical for the design of effective therapeutics to prevent preterm labour. We are:

  • investigating the molecular events that occur in the uterine tissues prior to myometrial contractions, with the aim of identifying novel high-level regulators that could be exploited as therapeutic targets
  • examining the role of prostanoids as potential therapeutic targets
  • exploring strategies for targeted delivery of drugs to uterus to improve efficacy 

Social responsibility

  • In July 2015, I participated in a Science Connections event at Levenshulme High School. I talked to groups of girls about my education, career path and what my job entails from day to day. I also held a discussion about science and pregnancy in the news, to gauge the girls’ opinions on cloning, IVF, designer babies and embryo selection. 
  • In 2015, I participated in a Dragonfly Day speed networking event organised by The University of Manchester. Groups of local school girls aged 12-15 asked me questions about my education, career path and current job. The aim of the programme was for the girls to meet and chat with female staff working in STEM areas, improve their self-confidence and communication skills, challenge their perceptions of scientists and highlight careers they may not have considered.
  • In 2014, I was team lead for a stall at the Manchester Pharmacy School Bugs to Drugs Community Open Day to educate 5-75 year olds about microbes and antibiotic resistance. I showed children how to isolate their DNA from a saliva sample and how to identify different bacteria under the microscope.
  • In 2014, I was team lead for a stall at the FLS/FMHS Community Open Day to educate 5-12 year olds about the placenta. I developed a series of interactive activities to demonstrate the importance of optimal placental function and to explain how we can treat poor placental function. 
  • In 2014, I organised a half day visit to the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre for thirty Year 10 biology students from Flixton Girls School. The students took part in lab tours, a debate, a careers session and learned about the research we do.
  • I co-ran an interactive science stall for pupils in Years 7-9 at The University of Manchester’s Science Extravaganza for National Science and Engineering Week, March 2013.
  • In collaboration with Nowgen, I host up to four “Meet the Scientist” sessions a year. This allows small groups of A Level biology students from local colleges to visit The Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre, tour the laboratories, learn about our research and find out about careers in science.
  • My research has received external coverage on the BBSRC website and Twitter feed as part of the BBSRC: 20 years of Bioscience campaign, and was the subject of an article in the BBSRC business magazine (Summer 2013).



Lecturer - MPharm, Year 2: The Medicine

Academic advisor - MPharm, Year 1

PEP tutor - Medicine, Year 1

Supervisor of final year Life Sciences laboratory research projects

Supervisor of 4th year MPharm research projects



Research Project Lead - Clinical Pharmaceutical Science STP & PTQA

Member of the Degree Board, MRes Maternal and Fetal Health

Pastoral advisor, MRes Maternal and Fetal Health

MHS PGR Training Workshop Lead

Supervision of MRes and PhD research projects

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