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Dr Ashleigh Boyd
Level 2
Pears Building, UCL Institute of Immunity & Transplantation
Rowland Hill Street
Dr Ashleigh Boyd profile picture
  • Associate Professor
  • Department of Surgical Biotechnology
  • Div of Surgery & Interventional Sci
  • Faculty of Medical Sciences

After obtaining a BSc in Immunology from the University of Glasgow, Dr. Boyd became a research associate at Harvard Medical School where she first developed an interest in transplantation immunology. She obtained a DPhil from Oriel College, University of Oxford, by investigating the potential of embryonic stem cells (ESC) to differentiate to insulin producing cell clusters (IPCCs) to act as a source of tissue to treat Type 1 diabetes mellitus and by assessing the immunogenicity of IPCCs when they are transplanted. Following post-doctoral training in stem cell biology at Oxford, Dr. Boyd established her own laboratory within a NIH Centre of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) where she held an Assistant Professor appointment at Boston University School of Medicine and faculty status at Boston University’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CReM). In August 2013 Dr. Boyd was recruited to re-establish her laboratory at University College London (UCL) based at the Research Department of Surgical Biotechnology, Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, North London. In 2014, she joined the faculty of the UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation (UCL IIT) and in 2021 moved her research group to the new home of the IIT within the Pears Building at UCL's Royal Free Hospital campus. 

Research Summary

Stem cell research has the potential to revolutionize the clinical armamentarium for debilitating diseases caused by ageing, organ failure and cancer.  Research in the Boyd laboratory investigates applications of stem cell biology and immunology in cell therapy and regenerative medicine, focusing on the applicability of pluripotent stem cell derived tissues to regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. To do this, we utilise embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) to generate models of disease as platforms for drug testing and with a view to developing future cell replacement/regenerative medicine therapies.

IPS cells are adult tissue cells (e.g. skin or blood cells) that have been ‘reprogrammed’ back to a stem cell state via the introduction of transcription factors responsible for the maintenance of stem cell characteristics.  Similar in developmental capacity to ESCs, but being made in an ethically conscious manner, iPS cells not only have the potential to form all the cells within the body but, because they are patient-specific, could in the future, provide tissues for cell replacement therapies and enable autologous (self) transplantation. However, at present, their greatest utility may lie in their ability to be used as a tool to understand disease pathology and identify drug targets. 

Our major disease interest is Diabetes Mellitus (hereafter diabetes), a condition in which the body is unable to regulate glucose levels due to a lack or malfunction of the hormone insulin, resulting in widespread tissue pathology. Autoimmune Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is caused by the specific destruction of the insulin-producing pancreatic β cells, causing a complete lack of insulin. Whereas in Type II diabetes (TIID), insulin production is still active, but is insufficient and unable to control blood glucose levels.

We are studying and modelling the major comorbidities which arise in diabetic patients, including renal nephropathy and fibrosis, cardiovascular dysfunction and impaired wound healing. To do this, we use iPS cells derived from both healthy and diabetic patients to dissect and understand the development and pathogenesis of these conditions in their various tissue settings with the aims of understanding more about the differences between the normal and diseased states, to identify potential therapeutic targets for intervention. Projects in the lab use a combination of stem cell and bioengineering approaches including: iPS cell targeted lineage differentiation, development of 3D tissue organoids, tissue decellularisation for scaffold and matrix development, development of novel tissue matrices and scaffolds, and genome editing techniques including CRISPR/Cas to engineer new stem cell lines for disease modelling. Another ongoing interest is in studying the immunogenicity of stem cell derived tissues, which could be a hurdle to the translation of stem cell therapies and warrants further study. 

Teaching Summary

Dr Boyd is the Research Project Lead for DivSIS Royal Free Campus, leading the Research Project modules for the MScs in Burns, Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, MSc in Nanotechnology & Regenerative Medicine and  the intercalated BSc in Surgical Sciences. 

Academic Background
    Doctor of Philosophy Oriel College Oxford
    Bachelor of Science (Honours) University of Glasgow
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