Personal profile


Donald J. Davidson is a medical graduate of the University of Edinburgh who chose to pursue a non-clinical research career. He completed a PhD at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, studying the pathogenesis of cystic fibrosis lung disease, then was awarded a Wellcome Trust Travelling Research Fellowship to undertake post-doctoral training in innate immunity research at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. After four years in Canada, he was recruited to the MRC / University of Edinburgh Centre for Inflammation Research, where he has developed an independent research group, focused on antimicrobial host defence peptides and pulmonary innate defence mechanisms, funded initially as a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow, and then as an MRC Senior Non-clinical Fellow, before being awarded a Personal Chair in Host Defence & Inflammation Biology. Donald took early retirement in September 2023.

Current Research Interests

We are interested in elucidating the physiological importance of host defence peptides to innate and adaptive host defences, and the potential of their synthetic derivatives as future preventative and therapeutic antimicrobial agents.

Current research projects in the laboratory are focused upon:

  • The importance of host defence and microbiome modulation and microbicidal activities in cathelicidin-mediated protection against pulmonary viruses (including Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Influenza), and their potential for novel protective and therapeutic interventions.

  • The role and therapeutic potential of defensins, and related synthetic derivatives, in the treatment of Atopic Dermatitis.

  • The biological significance and therapeutic potential of cathelicidin-primed dendritic cells in host immunity.

  • The role of cathelicidin-induced epithelial cell death of bacterially / virally infected cells, as an innate pulmonary defence.

  • The key cellular sources of cathelicidins and therapeutic inducibility.

Additional and collaborative projects focus on:

  • The function of cathelicidins as direct modulators of adaptive immune responses.

  • Novel approaches to imaging HDP interactions with microbes and mammalian cells.

  • The importance of HDP in regulation of the microbiome.

  • The role of HDP in the female reproductive tract and in premature birth.

Research Interests

My primary research interests lie at the interface between innate immunity and pulmonary infectious disease pathophysiology.

            I approach my research with a disease and therapeutics orientated perspective borne from my background in Clinical Medicine, complemented by my PhD in a Human Genetics institute and post-doctoral fellowships in the Microbiology and Immunology Department at a Paediatric hospital-based Research Centre, before establishing my research group at the Centre for Inflammation Research.

            I am particularly interested in studying the human innate immune system with a view to developing novel therapies for drug-resistant pathogens. My current studies have been developed with a primary focus upon modulating innate immune function and elucidating the activities of antimicrobial host defence peptides in the context of bacterial and viral pulmonary infection.

Collaborative Activity

My research in a nutshell

Administrative Roles

University of Edinburgh roles

  • Academic Lead for QMRI TestEd COVID19 testing project, 2021 – 2023
  • Associate Member of the CIR Postgraduate Studies Committee, 2021 – 2023
  • Chair of the CIR Blood Resource Management Committee, 2015 - 2021
  • Member of the CIR Postgraduate Studies Committee, 2008 – 2021
  • Member of the Athena SWAN SCS & SMGPHS Steering Group 2016 - 2017
  • Member of the Athena SWAN SCS & SMGPHS Self Assessment Board, 2014 – 2017
  • Chair of the Athena SWAN Career Progression and Equality Committee, 2016 – 2017
  • Lead for the Athena SWAN Promotions Subcommittee, 2015 – 2017
  • Member of Queen’s Medical Research Institute Postdoctoral Committee, 2007 - 2016
  • Member of the UoE Animal Welfare Committee, 2011 – 2016
  • Member of Queen’s Medical Research Institute GM Safety Committee, 2009 - 2016
  • Member of the MBChB Year 1/2 Development Committee, 2010 - 2013
  • Chair of the Queen’s Medical Research Institute PhD Open Day Committee, 2007 – 2012
  • Founding member, Trainee Choice Distinguished Lectures in Medicine Series, 2003 - 04
  • Founding Trainee representative, BCRI Research Education Committee, 2002 – 04
  • Secretary of the MRC HGU Social committee 1998 - 1999, Member 1997-1998 


Public Engagement & Communications Roles

  • Chair of CMVM Public Engagement with Research Advisory Group 2021 - 2023
  • Chair of CIR Public Engagement & Communications Committee 2013 – 2023
  • Academic lead for Public Engagement in the CIR, 2015 – 2023
  • British Society for Immunology Public Engagement Secretary, 2018 – 2022
  • Beltane Public Engagement Fellow in Infectious Diseases, 2018
  • National MRC Open Communications Forum member, 2015 – 2023
  • NCCPE Public Engagement Professionals Network member, 2018 – 2019
  • University of Edinburgh CMVM PE forum member, 2015 - 2023
  • Scottish PE Network member, 2017 – 2023
  • STEM NET ambassador, 2015 – current
  • Institute of Ideas “Debating Matters” Judge (, 2012 - 2015
  • Invited speaker at the Wellcome Trust PhD students Career Day, 2007-2010
  • Royal Society MP-Scientist Pairing scheme participant, 2006 – 2007


Professional Societies


Other external roles

  • Elected as GRC Antimicrobial Peptides Conference Vice-Chair (2017) and Chair (2019)
  • Advisory board member: Inflammation Research, 2008 - 2023
  • Scientific Organising Committee: “Inflammation: From Initiation to Restoration” Conference, Edinburgh 2019
  • Scientific Organising Committee: Inflammation and Disease Meeting, Manchester 2014
  • Scientific Organising Committee: European Dendritic Cell and Macrophage Society Annual Symposium 2010

Visiting and Research Positions

Adjunct Associate Professor - Murdoch Univerity, Perth, Australia 2017 -2023

Walter Murdoch Distinguished Collaborator award & Adjunct Senior Lecturer appointment: Murdoch University, WA,  2012 - 2016


  • Supervision of 18 PhD students
  • PhD thesis examining: external (x6) & internal (x9) examiner, non-examining chair (x1)
  • Programme Co-Director of Medical Sciences & Translational Research PhD with integrated studies in Engagement for Impact Programme 2020 - 2023

  • University of Edinburgh College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine 2022 Innovation Award
  • External Examiner Imperial College London (MSc Immunology) 2017 - 2021

  • Edinburgh University Students Association Teaching Award Nominee 2012-2013 for the “Support Student learning” award.
  • Student Selected Component Tutor, MBChB (University of Edinburgh) 2006 – 2014
  • Teaching in 2 modules on MSc in Life Sciences course, 2007 – current
  • Course Organiser: Student Selected Component 2a (University of Edinburgh) 2007 – 2013
  • Effective Tutoring Course - University of Edinburgh (2008)
  • Marking and Providing Feedback Training - University of Edinburgh (2008)

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), “Lung disease in the cystic fibrosis mutant mouse”, University of Edinburgh

Award Date: 1 Jan 2000

Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, University of Edinburgh

Award Date: 1 Jan 1992

External positions

Adjunct Associate Professor, Murdoch Univ, Murdoch University


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