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Personal profile

My research in a nutshell

I study the formation and function of bone marrow adipose tissue (BMAT), a major component of our bone marrow that may have broad implications on health and disease.

One striking observation is that, unlike other types of adipose tissue, BMAT accumulates during conditions of starvation, including caloric restriction (CR) in animals and in human patients with anorexia nervosa. BMAT also increases with ageing and other clinical conditions. Therefore, a key focus of my lab is to determine the causes and consequences of BMAT accumulation during CR and ageing. To do so we use a combination of preclinical models, cutting-edge biomedical imaging, and clinical sample analyses. Our aim is to establish how BMAT impacts metabolic homeostasis, immunological function and skeletal health.

There is currently much interest in using CR, or pharmacological CR mimetics, to prevent and treat chronic diseases. In pursuing our studies of CR and BMAT, my lab has identified striking sex differences, with females resisting many of the metabolic benefits of CR. This has implications for the use of CR and/or CR mimetics to improve health. Thus, my lab is now also investigating the mechanisms underlying these sex differences. Understanding these mechanisms might reveal new approaches for treating chronic diseases.

Finally, my lab is exploring population-level techniques to dissect the formation and function of BMAT in humans, both in normal physiology and disease. This includes machine learning for automated analysis of BM adiposity in large-scale MRI data from the UK Biobank.

In addition to these research activities, I am a founding member and current Secretary of the International Bone Marrow Adiposity Society (BMAS) and I am very enthusiastic about science communication and public engagement, including helping to coordinate Twitter accounts for the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, the Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes theme, and BMAS. Finally, I am a strong advocate for open research and research integrity, including serving as the University of Edinburgh's representative for the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN) and Open Science Ambassador for the League of European Research Universities (LERU). In the latter role I aim to advance the University of Edinburgh's progress along it's Open Research Roadmap, which will help to improve research culture and reproducibility.

More information can be found elsewhere on the Centre for Cardiovascular Science website, and via my profile on Edinburgh Research Explorer (which includes further details of my research, publications, funding and other activities).

Research Interests

White adipose tissue (WAT) is a key regulator of metabolic homeostasis, both as a site for energy storage and as an endocrine organ. The past generation has seen extensive research into WAT biology, fuelled largely by the public health burden posed by obesity and associated diseases. As such, WAT formation and function is now relatively well understood. Adipocytes also exist in bone marrow, yet in contrast to WAT, our understanding of such bone marrow adipose tissue (BMAT) is extremely limited. This ignorance is surprising: BMAT accounts for up to 70% of bone marrow volume in healthy adult humans, which suggests that BMAT has a role in normal human physiology. BMAT further increases in conditions of altered bone formation or metabolic health. For example, increased BMAT occurs in osteoporosis, suggesting that BMAT might contribute to the bone fragility that defines this disease. Perhaps most bizarrely, BMAT formation increases in starvation states, such as during caloric restriction (CR) in animals or in human patients with anorexia nervosa. This is in stark contrast to WAT, which is broken down during starvation to be used as fuel. CR has numerous health benefits, including increased lifespan, decreased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and metabolic benefits such as enhanced fat breakdown and insulin sensitivity. BMAT also increases in response to treatment with anti-diabetic drugs such as thiazolidinediones or fibroblast growth factor-21, which, like CR, enhance insulin sensitivity. These clinical observations raise the possibility that BMAT directly promotes insulin sensitivity and metabolic health. However, whether BMAT impacts metabolic homeostasis remains unknown. Such knowledge could reveal new approaches to treat metabolic diseases. Thus, there is a critical need to understand the functions of BMAT.


My postdoctoral research revealed that, during CR, BMAT is a key source of adiponectin, a hormone that helps to maintain insulin sensitivity and fat breakdown, and which is linked to decreased risk of obesity-associated cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. My postdoctoral work further revealed that BMAT expansion is required for skeletal muscle to adequately adapt to CR. This suggests that, as an endocrine organ, BMAT can exert systemic effects in metabolically relevant peripheral tissues.

My lab is now building on these observations by addressing the following questions (and their broader implications):

  1. What factors regulate BMAT formation in normal development, and aberrant BMAT expansion in disease states? Can we manipulate BMAT formation to achieve improved health outcomes?
  2. Does BMAT contribute to the impact of CR on metabolic homeostasis, cardiovascular risk, skeletal remodelling, haematopoiesis and/or immune function? What is the evolutionary function of BMAT, and how might this impact human health and disease?
  3. Does adiponectin contribute to the above effects of CR? What is the evolutionary function of adiponectin?
  4. We have found striking sex differences in the effects of CR on metabolic and immune function: What are the mechanisms underlying these sex differences? Can these be targeted to develop improved strategies to prevent and treat chronic disease?
  5. BMAT in humans can be measured non-invasively using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or spectroscopy (MRS). Can this be done at a population-level to reveal new insights into BMAT formation and function?

By pursuing the above questions, my research aims to reveal fundamental new knowledge about how BMAT, adiponectin and CR impact normal physiology and diverse disease states.

Current Research Interests

My current research addresses why BMAT expands during CR, and investigating if BMAT impacts metabolic health. Our previous publications in Cell Metabolism (PMID 24998914), Endocrinology (PMID 26696121), Frontiers in Endocrinology (PMC5030308) and Nature Communications (PMID 32555194) provide several insights toward these questions. Building on this, my lab is exploring the impact of BMAT on skeletal remodelling and immunological function.

I am also interested in sex differences in the metabolic and other effects of CR, based on our findings in mice which show that females, unlike males, do not lose fat mass or improve glucose tolerance in response to CR. Notably, in collaboration with other groups, we have found similar differences in humans. Finally, we have shown that BMAT is a major source of increased circulating adiponectin during CR. Therefore, we are now investigating the function of this hormone during CR.

Finally, my lab is investigating if BMAT and BMAT-derived factors, such as adiponectin, influence the metabolic, skeletal and immunological effects of ageing.

Improving our knowledge of BMAT formation and function might shed new light not only on normal human physiology, but also on diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. Similarly, by better understanding the mechanisms through which CR exerts diverse effects, we may be able to identify fundamental evolutionary pathways, as well as improved CR-related strategies to treat chronic diseases. Such knowledge will be vital if we are to reduce the public health impact of globally relevant health problems.


Research students

Current students:

  • Benjamin Thomas (BHF-funded PhD student)
  • Worachet (Bew) Promruk (PhD student)

Previous students:

  • Andrea Lovdel (CMVM-funded PhD student). Now Clinical Trial manager at Novo Nordisk.
  • Lisa Ivatt (MScR student, as part of her 4-year BHF PhD)
  • Richard Sulston (BHF-funded PhD student, 2015-2019). Currently pursuing a career in patent law in London.
  • Domenico Mattiucci (visiting PhD student from Italy; went on to a postdoc at the University of Edinburgh Centre for Regenerative Medicine; now at Novo Nordisk)
  • Yige Sun (Master's student on the Neuroscience MSc programme).
  • Iris Pruñonosa (visiting Erasmus student, now a student in CVS on the BHF 4-year PhD programme)
  • Alexandre Lafond, Diana Said, Matthew Sinton, Xuan Han, Holly Woodward (Previous MScR students). Matthew and Holly completed their PhDs in our department.
  • Fiona Roberts, Rachel Bell, Eleanor Brain, Kim Crane, Lucius Lo and Wendy Workman (previous BSc Hons students. Fiona has since completed her PhD at Edinburgh and is now a postdoc in Copenhagen. Rachel is now doing her PhD in Edinburgh. Eleanor and Kim are at Medical School, and Wendy is exploring PhD opportunities).
  • Caitlin Jones, Catherine Redshaw and Richard West (previous summer undergraduate students)

Administrative Roles

  • LERU (League of European Research Universities) Open Science Ambassador for the University of Edinburgh. (Since 2021)
  • Co-founder, Edinburgh Open Research Initiative (@edinburgh_open)
  • Lead for University of Edinburgh arm of the UKRN (UK Reproducibility Network) (Since 2021)
  • Secretary and founding member of the International Bone Marrow Adiposity Society (BMAS; (Since 2017)
  • Member of the Editorial Board for Diabetes
  • Member of the University of Edinburgh working group on Research Metrics (2020-2021)
  • Member of the CVS Seminars and Symposium Committee (2015-2019)
  • Member of the CVS Social and Communications Committee (2015-2019)
  • Creator and first coordinator of the CVS Twitter account (@EdinUniCVS) (2016-2018)
  • Coordinator (with Prof Nik Morton, Dr James Minchin and Dr Ruth Morgan) of the CVS Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes (MOD) theme Twitter account (@EdinUniMetabol)
  • Coordinator of the BMAS Twitter account (@BMA_Society)


Since moving to the University of Edinburgh in January 2015 I have supported students and postdoctoral trainees in the following ways:

  • Lecturer for the MScR in Cardiovascular Science and undergraduate Endocrine Physiology and Pharmacology Honours course.
  • Currently supervising one four-year BHF-funded PhD student (Ben Thomas); co-supervisor for PhD student at the Roslin Institute (Worachet Promruk)
  • Previous superviser for two PhD students (Richard Sulston and Andrea Lovdel), seven Master's students (Alex Lafond, Diana Said, Matthew Sinton, Xuan Han, Holly Woodward, Lisa Ivatt and Yige Sun), one ECAT researcher (Tyler Morrison), one visiting Erasmus+ student (Iris Pruñonosa) and eleven University of Edinburgh undergraduates during their Honours Projects or summer studentships in my lab.
  • Co-supervisor for a previous college-funded PhD student (Rebecca Wafer).
  • Previous superviser for one MRC-funded postdoctoral research fellow (Karla Suchacki; 2015-2020) and one visiting postdoctoral researcher (Juilia Münzker) who has since obtained a permanent position in Germany.
  • Currently mentoring one postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh. Previously served as a mentor to two postdoctoral researchers who have since obtained a positions at other universities in the UK and USA.

Positions available

I am interested in hearing from enthusiastic candidates for PhD or Postdoctoral research projects. Please get in touch by email if you're interested. For students based outside of the EU, please first contact the CMVM Graduate School office to discuss your eligibility and funding options available.

Collaborative Activity

I am the Secretary and a founding member of the International Bone Marrow Adiposity Society (BMAS, This was established through my membership of an EU consortium called BoneAHEAD (Bone Adiposity in HEalth and Disease; The aim of BoneAHEAD is to apply for EU funding to advance our knowledge of BMAT, to train PhD students, to forge new collaborations within and beyond academia, and to translate understanding of BMAT to yield economic and public health benefits.

I am the lead PI on a collaborative MRC proposal that aims to establish methods for population-level imaging of BMAT. This includes Co-Investigators from the Universities of Edinburgh, Dundee and Westminster, as well as collaborators from the University of Lille, spanning diverse fields of imaging, genomics and adipose biology. 

My lab has forged other collaborations around the UK and internationally, based on our expertise in BMAT analysis.

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Cambridge

Award Date: 1 Jan 2008

Bachelor of Arts, University of Cambridge

Award Date: 1 Jan 2004

Master of Natural Science at Cambridge University, University of Cambridge

Award Date: 1 Jan 2004


  • QP Physiology


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