Key Projects and Expertise

Our primary research interest groups include:


One aspect of Professor Scobie’s research is safety in xenotransplantation. This novel technology is where living cells, tissues or organs are transferred from one species to another. The European Union (EU) have funded a programme to develop an implant containing insulin secreting pig cells which will potentially replace and/or reduce the need for individuals with Type 1 diabetes to have regular insulin injections (  Individuals with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce the hormone insulin in their pancreas to regulate blood sugar levels and need regular insulin injections to supplement this. These individuals are also susceptible to the development of chronic complications which are detrimental to the patient and costly to the NHS. Human cell transplants are already being used to treat some Type 1 patients. The technique - called islet transplantation - takes cells from the pancreas of a dead human donor which are then injected into the liver of a patient where they begin to produce insulin. However, the treatment is expensive (though in the UK it is available for a few on the NHS), there are very few donors available and patients also need to take drugs to suppress the immune system to stop the cells being rejected, which can have unpleasant side effects. It is hoped that the use of animal cells will circumvent these issues, indeed, there is no need for immune-suppression with the proposed medical implant and GCU is working on the safety aspects of using pig cells.  The team, co-ordinated by Prof Pierre Gianello in Belgium, is building on an earlier study known as the Xenome project and the new study will aim to take this forward and implement a clinical trial in Europe to treat Type 1 diabetes using this novel approach.

In addition, the team work on the emerging virus Hepatitis E with respect to its role in clinical disease and as a foodborne zoonosis.  This work also fits with the theme of Public Health within the School.

Contract research and consultancy on viral safety in Pharma and clinical trials is also a focus of the team.

Key researchers: Claire Crossan and Prof Linda Scobie

Lipid Metabolism

Dysregulation of lipid and cholesterol metabolism have been implicated in a growing number of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, both of which are increasing in prevalence in our aging population. In recently funded projects, Professor Graham and research team are investigating the role of cholesterol trafficking proteins and lipid accumulation in health and disease.   Investigations in hepatocytes, neuronal cells, insulin-secreting and vascular cells have implications for diseases including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis.

Key researchers: Prof Ann Graham

Pathogenesis of retinal disease

Dr Xinhua Shu is working to understand the pathogenesis and develop therapeutic strategies for retinal diseases (retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy), using mouse and zebrafish as models. Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is the leading cause of blindness for working –age individuals, 78-98% diabetes will progress to DR within 15 years of diagnosis. Oxidative stress is believed to play a key role in the development of DR. High glucose levels increase the release of reactive oxygen species (ROS), superoxide levels are increased in the retina of diabetic rodents and in retinal cells growing within high glucose media In diabetes, the activities of anti-oxidative enzymes responsible for scavenging free radicals and maintaining redox homeostasis such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione reductase, glutathione peroxidise, and catalase are diminished in the retina. ROS also promotes the release of proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-1β and TNFα, which contribute to the progression of DR. Researchers are investigating the role of oxidative stress and inflammation in the pathogenesis of DR and developing new therapeutic strategies for treating patients with DR.

Connexins in health and disease

Dr Martin and her research team focus on the role of Connexins in Health and Disease. These proteins are present in nearly every tissue in the body where they form gap junction channels between adjacent cells enabling co-ordination of cellular activities. Under a range of pathophysiological conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetic wound healing and inflammation, neurological and renal disease, connexins become deregulated and are emerging as prime therapeutic targets. Mutations in Connexins are also the most common cause of genetically inherited hearing loss and are linked to skin disorders, cataract formation and Charcot Marie Tooth X-linked disease, a severe demyelinating condition. Worldwide research in this field will be highlighted at the International Gap Junction Conference 2017, organised by Dr Martin and Dr Johnstone in Glasgow summer 2017 (

Current research at GCU focuses on the role of Connexin in the skin (Patricia Martin) (including wound healing, Connexin mutations associated with skin disorders and psoriasis), pulmonary hypertension (Yvonne Dempsie) and vascular disease (Scott Johnstone).

In patients with diabetes chronic non-healing wounds are major problem and it is now well established that increased Connexin43 is a hallmark for the condition and associated with delayed wound closure responses.  Diabetes is a chronic disease which is responsible for lower limb and foot amputation, neuropathy, arterial diseases and kidney failure.  Diabetic foot problems are among the most serious and costly complications of diabetes, with lower limb amputations performed as a result of the disease. The Scottish Diabetes Foot Action Group, supported by the NHS, the Scottish Government and Diabetes UK, launched in 2014 a ‘CPR (Check, Protect, Refer) for Feet’ campaign, which encourages ward staff to check the feet of patients with diabetes admitted to hospital.  The need for accurate foot risk stratification for patients with diabetes and access to foot clinics is high on the agenda for the Scottish Government and the NHS; a major focus of work by Prof J Woodburn.

To help understand the mechanisms underlying these events the team have identified agents that decrease connexin function and improve wound closure events in ex-vivo skin model systems. To enable us to do this Drs Martin and Wright established a Diabetic skin tissue bank enabling tissue and cells isolated from donated skin to be used in in vitro experiments This tissue is available to external partners on request by following this link.

Key researchers: Prof Patricia Martin, Dr Yvonne Dempsie, Dr Scott Johnstone, Dr Catherine Wright


Further information:

Scobie_Pic_2Professor Linda Scobie (Research Group Lead and member of School Research committee)
Tel: +44 (0) 141 331 8534





Dr Patricia Martin (University Research Committee member)
Tel: +44(0)141 331 3726