Professor Simon Whawell Inaugural Lecture header
  • Devonport Lecture Theatre, Portland Square, University of Plymouth, PL4 8AA, and online using Zoom

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We are proud to present the Inaugural Professorial Lecture of Professor Simon Whawell
Cell and tissue surfaces are crucial in the regulation normal body function. They control the passage of a variety of substances and physically separate parts of the cell and tissues which have different functions. As with many crucial processes these borders are disrupted in disease and can represent a crucial ‘battleground’ which determines outcome but also represents diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities. 
In his inaugural lecture, Simon will use examples from pathological science to highlight how the cell surface can catalyse enzyme reactions and how dysfunction of this system can lead to tissue surfaces sticking together in the abdominal cavity forming peritoneal adhesions which are a leading cause of small bowel obstruction and secondary infertility in women. 
Simon’s recent work has highlighted the crucial role of what was previously thought to be relatively normal tissue or stroma surrounding tumours including those originating from the oral cavity. By reflecting the progress of the ‘battle’, cells within this border may be better diagnostic markers of disease than features of the tumour itself and represent an area where specific interventions may represent a promising therapeutic target.
When you are on the border, you can see both ways
There will be an opportunity for Simon to answer your questions at the end of his lecture.
You are welcome to join us for University of Plymouth's Inaugural Professorial Lecture series, which provide a milestone event in a professorial career. Through these we can promote and celebrate the academic reputation and achievements within their research. 
This hybrid-delivery event is open to the public and free to attend, booking is required.
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  • P.gingivalis invasion of S-phase cells

    P.gingivalis invasion of S-phase cells

    High power microscopy of oral epithelial cells stained (left, blue nuclei) in culture and those in S phase of the cell cycle (right, green). The periodontal pathogen P.gingivalis are red dots and preferentially associate with cells in S phase.
  • Bacterial invasion

    Bacterial invasion

    High power microscopy images of human skin (left, pink) and oral (right, blue) epithelial cells incubated with S. aureus (left, black dots) and P.gingivalis (right, brown stain) bacteria associate with some cells more than others
  • 3D
Oral mucosal models

    3D Oral mucosal models

    Stained sections of 3D oral mucosal models consisting of collagen gels overlaid with oral cancer cells. Inclusion of fibroblast cells in the collagen gel (right) results in invasion of the cancer cells to deeper levels, similar to oral cancer in vivo
  • Alpha V beta 6 expression in oral cancer

    Alpha V beta 6 expression in oral cancer

    Immunostaining for the alpha v beta 6 integrin receptor in a histological section of oral cancer. Expression (brown stain) is restricted to cancer cells at the edge of the close to the surrounding more normal tissue (stroma)

Providing ‘useful’ science to empower healthcare’s frontline professionals

"My interest has always been focused around human biology in an applied way – and my main motivation is to do science that is useful,” he says. “This is why I have always worked with those at the frontline of healthcare. They often identify issues during the course of their day-to-day work, and there are things we can do in the lab to identify the causes and – hopefully – the solutions."
Simon Whawell in the dentistry clinical skills room

Exploring mechanisms and diagnostic markers of disease

Sculpting the immune tumour microenvironment in vitro 

Project team: Professor Simon Whawell, Dr Andrew Foey, Dr Vehid Salih, Sian Crow (PGR)
Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is the 8th most common cancer in the UK with around 9000 new cases each year. OSCC contain a high number of immune cells with tumour associated macrophages (TAMs) being elevated compared to normal oral mucosa suggesting a role in tumour development. 
The overall hypothesis of the proposed study is that there is a bi-directional relationship between macrophages and OSCC cells promoting tumourigenesis that can be modelled in vitro
We propose that the presence of M2 like macrophages in a reconstituted tumour microenvironment can influence the invasive behaviour of OSCC cell lines and invasive OSCC cells influence the phenotype of macrophages.

In vitro modelling of the oral mucosal response to denture wear

Project team: Professor Simon Whawell, Dr Zoe Brookes, and Dr Vehid Salih, Samantha Robins (University of Plymouth), Anousheh Alavi (Haleon)
Project partner: Haleon plc
A large number of adults wear dentures and with the population ageing this number is likely to increase. However, studies suggest that at least half of removable denture wearers face physical, social or clinical challenges or poor denture status. The changes that occur in the lining of the mouth (oral mucosa) almost certainly play a role in treatment outcomes as these would play a critical role when distributing occlusal loads during mastication. 
We hypothesise that it is possible to develop 3 dimensional oral mucosal models (OMM) that will allow a detailed analysis of the histological and molecular responses to the physical forces associated with functional dentures.

Peninsula Dental School

Studying dentistry at the University provides students with exceptional clinical learning, strong social engagement and world class research. 
Our close relationship with NHS partners, offers the opportunity of early clinical contact for all students. Teaching in our state-of-the-art Dental education facilities helps to equip our trainee dental practitioners with clinical skills of the highest order. 
Dental dentistry student

Public Research Programme

The year-long programme of public events showcases our research across a spectrum of topics. It presents the Inaugural Professorial Lecture series which celebrates the achievements of our academics who have been awarded their professorship; providing a platform for which they can share insights into their esteemed research.
All are welcome to join us as our academics open the door to the intriguing world of research, inviting you to learn more about the fascinating work taking place across the University.
Roland Levinsky Building at night

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