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Leader in stem cells and outstanding role model


Fiona Watt wins the 2016 FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award


14 March 2016 – Ever since she was a child she knew that she wanted to be a scientist: dressed in a child’s lab coat she used to play with a chemistry set and keep pet newts. “Like many scientists I could not conceive of being anything else,” she says. Today, Fiona Watt is Director of the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King’s College Londonand looks back at a successful career that spans more than 35 years. In February, she was announced winner of the 2016 FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award for her achievements in epidermal cell biology and epidermal stem cells.


Much of Fiona Watt’s work has focused on the stem cells of mammalian skin and the molecular and genetic pathways that work together to control epidermal stem cell proliferation and differentiation. She has made numerous fundamental discoveries, most recently about how the epidermis interacts with different classes of dermal fibroblasts, and how these normal signalling mechanisms go awry in cancer and skin disease.


Over the past few years, the British biologist has focused on using new technologies to understand what controls the fate of human epidermal stem cells. She was one of the first to discover that processes such as inflammation, physical forces and epigenetics influence skin stem cell behaviour.


The award winner was also recognized for her commitment to gender issues, her leadership qualities and her active mentorship of junior scientists. In a series of interviews she held with 24 female scientists she exposed the barriers and challenges that women who pursue a career in science face. The interviews were published in the Journal of Cell Science, for which she served as Editor-in-Chief for almost a decade, until 2011. The stem cells expert also played a key role in promoting the British government’s investment in stem cell research.


“Her research continues to be at the cutting edge and over the past five years,” said Brigid Hogan of the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, United States. “She has boundless energy and enthusiasm, and in her leadership positions she has worked tirelessly to build interactive and collaborative research communities.” 


The 2016 FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award of 10,000 Euros will be presented to Fiona Watt on 6 September at the FEBS Congress in Ephesos / Kusadasi, Turkey, where she will give a special lecture.


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Tilmann KießlingTilmann Kießling
Head, Communications
T. + 49 160 9019 3839