John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair

School of Clinical Medicine



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Colin Watts

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Colin Watts graduated in Medicine from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1991. After completing general surgical training he was awarded an MRC Clinical Training Fellowship and gained his doctorate from Cambridge University in 1999. His thesis contributed to the development of surgical protocols for cell replacement therapy in neurodegenerative disease that he went on to validate in a Phase 1 clinical safety study. After completing his neurosurgical training at Cambridge and Kings College London he was awarded an MRC Clinician Scientist Fellowship to research the biology of adult stem cells in the injured brain and returned to Cambridge as an honorary Consultant Neurosurgeon. Initial studies into the derivation of stem cells from the adult brain helped him establish the Cambridge Protocol for derivation of cancer stem cells from human brain tumours. To facilitate this research he has established a dedicated brain tumour research clinic and sub-specialist practice in surgical neuro-oncology. His ongoing research is focused on the biology of cancer stem cells and their similarity to adult stem cells in the normal and injured brain.

“I believe that treating brain cancer is a perfect example of brain repair in action. This perspective offers unique opportunities to develop novel synergistic research strategies that have the potential to provide new insights into disease pathogenesis and treatment.”

Programme of Research

In my lab I am interested in the similarities between cancer stem cells and stem cells in the normal and injured brain. We have developed the Cambridge Protocol for the reliable derivation of self-renewing tumourigenic cells under serum-free conditions. We have begun to characterise these cells in vitro and in vivo and to compare them to stem cells in the normal and injured brain. In this way we aim to identify markers that will enable us to further enrich and define the tumour competent population. Such populations will then be used to identify and validate biomarkers of disease and potential therapeutic targets and strategies.

Our overall research strategy is summarised in the figure below:

Recent publications

Zhou JW, Raha-Chowhury R, Fawcett JW, Watts C. Cytoplasmic Translocation/Nuclear Retention of Olig2 Mediates the Cell Fate Choice for NG2+Olig2+ Progenitors Following Acute Brain Injury. E.J.N. 2009 29; 1853-69.

Fael MT*, Ball SLR*, Zhou JW*, Fawcett JW*, Ichimura K, Collins P, Watts C*§. A system for efficient propagation of brain tumour stem cells. J Neurosci Methods 2009 176; 192-199.

Joannides AJ, Webber DJ, Raineteau O, Kelly C, Irvine KA, Watts C, Rosser AE, Kemp PJ, Blakemore WF, Compston A, Caldwell MA, Allen ND, Chandran S. Environmental signals regulate lineage choice and temporal maturation of neural stem cells from human embryonic stem cells. Brain. 2007 May;130(Pt 5):1263-75.

Ozen I, Galichet C, Watts C, Parras C, Guillemot F, Raineteau O. Proliferating neuronal progenitors in the postnatal hippocampus transiently express the proneural gene Ngn2. Eur J Neurosci. 2007 25; 2591-2603.

Watts C, McConkey H, Anderson L, Caldwell M. Anatomical perspectives on adult stem cells. J Anat 207: 197-208; 2005

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