Edinburgh Research Explorer

Prof Donald Davidson

Chair of Host Defence and Inflammation Biology

Profile photo
Phone: 0131 242 6658

Willingness to take PhD students: Yes

Education/Academic qualification

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


Donald 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.


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 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.

  • Neutrophil NET formation in host defence and the role of calprotectin in the cystic fibrosis lung disease.

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 MRC 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

Research students

  • Sara van Boeckel - PhD student (co-supervised with Sarah Stock and Jane Norman)
  • Danielle Minns - PhD student (co-supervised with Emily Gwyer Findlay)
  • Jonathan Gillan - PhD student (co-supervised with Robert Gray)
  • Samantha Walker - PhD student (co-supervised with Karen Faulds
  • Jenny Shelley - PhD student (co-supervised with Richard Weller & Dave Clarke)
  • Katie Smith - PhD student (co-supervised with Emily Gwyer Findlay & Veronique Miron)
  • Katharin Balbirnie-Cumming - PhD student (co-supervised with David Dockrell)

My research in a nutshell

Administrative Roles

University of Edinburgh roles

  • Chair of the CIR Blood Resource Management Committee, 2015 - current
  • Member of the CIR Postgraduate Studies Committee, 2008 – current
  • 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

  • Chair of CIR Public Engagement & Communications Committee 2013 – current
  • Academic lead for Public Engagement in the CIR, 2015 – current
  • British Society for Immunology Public Engagement Secretary, 2018 – current
  • Beltane Public Engagement Fellow in Infectious Diseases, 2018 - current
  • National MRC Open Communications Forum member, 2015 – current
  • NCCPE Public Engagement Professionals Network member, 2018 – current
  • University of Edinburgh CMVM PE forum member, 2015 - current
  • Scottish PE Network member, 2017 – current
  • STEM NET ambassador, 2015 – current
  • “Amazing Immunology” workshops for the Edinburgh Science Festival 2014 - 2019
  • “Supercytes” game, animations and teachers resource developed 2015 - current
  • Institute of Ideas “Debating Matters” Judge (www.debatingmatters.com/), 2012 - 2015
  • British Society for Immunology “Going Viral” SciArt Public Engagement initiative, 2012
  • Primary School outreach sessions, 2012 - 2018
  • Secondary School work experience visitors x 3, 2011- current
  • Illustration and development of “MicroMania” an infectious diseases Happy Families card game for school children. 2010-2011
  • Invited speaker for the Royal Society MP-Scientist Pairing scheme 2007
  • Invited speaker at the Wellcome Trust PhD students Career Day, 2007-2010
  • Royal Society MP-Scientist Pairing scheme participant, 2006 – 2007
  • SciArt and scientific cartooning


Professional Societies

  • Chair (2017- current) / Secretary (2013 - 2017) of the BSI affinity group on Inflammation
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology
  • Ordinary member of the Society for Leukocyte Biology
  • Ordinary member of the British Society for Immunology


Other external roles

  • Elected as GRC Antimicrobial Peptides Conference Vice-Chair (2017) and Chair (2019)
  • Advisory board member: Inflammation Research, 2008 - current
  • 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 -current

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


  • Supervision of 16 PhD students, 2000 - current
  • PhD thesis examining: external (x5) & internal (x9) examiner, non-examining chair (x1)
  • 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)

Research activities & awards

  1. ENGAGE 2018

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

  2. World Pneumonia Day Symposium and Public Engagement event

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesPublic Engagement – Festival/Exhibition

  3. Supercytes Teacher Training in Selkirk

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesPublic Engagement – Schools engagement

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