Professor Donna Davies, training lead for research scientists

Donna DaviesProf Davies is the training lead for research scientists, and specialises in research into refined characterisation and diagnosis of respiratory conditions.

Email: D.e.davies@soton.ac.uk

Investigating disease mechanisms using tissue samples from human volunteers

We use human tissue based ‘models of disease’ that enable studies that could not be done ethically in people. This is being achieved by growing lung cells, obtained from volunteers or with consent from surgical patients, under specialised conditions in the laboratory. These models provide us with insight into disease mechanisms (for example, understanding why common cold viruses trigger exacerbations of asthma and COPD), allow early preclinical evaluation of potential drugs and identification of possible toxicities before they are tested in people. We work closely with colleagues in electronics and computer sciences (Prof Hywel Morgan), engineering (Prof Martyn Hill) and chemistry (Dr Martin Grossel) to use state-of-the-art tissue engineering methods so that our models are as close to real life as possible.

‘Biomarkers’ for drug development and improved treatment selection

We're working towards identifying how to get the right drug into the right patient at the right time. Our approach, known as ‘stratified medicine’ is the grouping of patients based on response to therapy or rate of disease progression through use of diagnostic tests. These tests usually rely on use of biomarkers – biological markers that can be measured and used as an indicator of ongoing disease or treatment response. Patients and healthcare providers both benefit from more targeted and effective treatments, whereas industry benefits from the potential for more efficient therapeutic development as well as the market expansion for these new treatments. By combining our models of disease with evaluation of potential new treatments, we aim to identify biomarkers that allow better selection of one drug versus another drug, on an individual basis, thereby increasing the effective delivery of therapy options. 

From genes to mechanisms to treatments

Diseases like asthma tend to run in families and have been linked to small changes in a small number of genes that increase the risk of disease development. We're studying the functions of some of these genes to understand how they contribute to asthma, especially in young children. By understanding how these susceptibility genes work, we hope to develop novel treatments that may ultimately prevent development of asthma.

Understanding scarring in the lung

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a devastating disease that occurs when abnormal scar tissue forms throughout the lungs, however the cause is unknown. Scarring in the lungs causes patients to become steadily more breathless when they exert themselves, and usually results in death within months to a few years of diagnosis – worse than many forms of cancer. The number of IPF cases diagnosed annually is >5,000 and steadily increasing but the reasons are unknown. It's currently impossible for even a specialist in IPF to predict the course of disease in each patient. We're using multidisciplinary approaches to understand the development of abnormal scar tissue in IPF.

For more information please visit www.southampton.ac.uk