Dr Karen Forbes

Dr Karen Forbes


I graduated from the University of Strathclyde with a BSc (Hons) in Immunology & Pharmacology (2001) and a PhD in Molecular Biochemistry (2005).

In 2004, I moved to the laboratory of Professor John Aplin and Professor Melissa Westwood in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Manchester. During my time as a postdoctoral research associate, my research involved dissecting the molecular events regulating normal placental growth and development, with a particular focus on the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signalling pathway.

I was awarded a University of Manchester Stepping Stones Fellowship in 2010 and I moved to the University of Leeds in 2014 as a Lecturer in Molecular Genetics.

In 2020, I was promoted to Associate Professor.


  • Deputy programme lead for MSc Clinical Embryology and ART
  • Module Manager for MSc Clinical Embryology and ART and MSc Clinical Embryology (Distance Learning)

Research interests


Pathological fetal can not only lead to complications during pregnancy and at birth, but is also linked to the development of adulthood diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. Fetal growth complications are rooted in aberrant placental development and function but currently, there are no treatments.

In order to make significant progress in this area, a better understanding of the mechanisms regulating placental development is needed. My research is focused on understanding how the maternal environment (diet, growth factors, extracellular vesicles, microRNAs), influences events in the placenta, leading to pregnancy complications, and to subsequent programming of the offspring for adulthood diseases.

We have a programme of research spanning from understanding the basic mechanisms of disease progression, through to the development of potential novel therapeutics for prevention of these conditions.

Current Projects
  • Defining the contribution of miRNAs to altered placental and fetal growth in pregnancies complicated by maternal diabetes - In collaboration with Professor Eleanor Scott, Dr Nigel Simpson (University of Leeds), Professor Susan Ozanne (University of Cambridge) and Professor Melissa Westwood  (University of Manchester)
  • Establishing the link between maternal glucose fluctuations, miRNAs and altered fetal growth in pregnancies complicated by maternal diabetes- In collaboration with Professor Eleanor Scott
  • Examining the functional role of stem lineage miRNAs in early pregnancy- In collaboration with Dr Niamh Forde & Dr Mary O’Connell (Univeristy of Nottingham)
  • Investigating the role of dietary-derived extracellular vesicles in maternal-placental messaging- In collaboration with Professors Melissa Westwood & John McLaughlin and Dr Anil Day (University of Manchester)
  • Therapeutically altering placental miRNA levels to improve fetal growth in problem pregnancies - In collaboration with Dr Lynda Harris (University of Manchester)
  • miRNAs as predictors of adverse pregnancy outcomes  - In collaboration with: Professor Alex Heazell, Dr Rebecca Jones and Dr Bernadette Baker (University of Manchester);  Rebecca Spencer & Eleanor Scott (Leeds)  
  • Identifying mechanisms regualting placental ERRgamma expression and fucntion in pregnancies complicated by fetal growth restriction.In collaboration with Professor Alex Heazell and Dr Lynda Harris (University of Manchester)
Current group members  
  • Dr Naima Endesh- Postdoctoral Research Fellow (MRC funded)
  • Sharanam Soni-MSc Molecular Medicine student
  • Dr Naomi Clement-Obstetrics & Gynaecology Academic Clinical Fellow (with Dr Nigel Simpson and Professor Eleanor Scott)
  • Manon Owen- BHF 4 year PhD student (co-supervised with Professor Eleanor Scott)
  • Abigail Byford-BHF 4 year PhD student (co-supervised with Professor Eleanor Scott and Dr Nigel Simpson)
  • Dr Sarah Cartland - MD Student/Clinical Research Fellow, University of Leeds (co-supervised with Professor Eleanor Scott and Dr Nigel Simpson)
  • Jessica Edge- BBSRC DTP PhD student (co-supervised with Dr Niamh Forde and Dr Mary O’Connell)
  • Margeurite Kennedy- PhD Student (co-supervised with Professor Eleanor Scott and Dr Nigel Simpson)
  • Dr Rachel Quilang- Postdoctoral Research Assistant  (MRC funded)
  • Haidee Tinning - PhD Student (co-supervised with Dr Niamh Forde)
  • Christopher Trevelyan- BHF funded PhD Student (co-supervised with Dr Neil Turner)
  • Zhiyong Zou-PhD Student (co-supervised with Professor Alex Heazell and Dr Lynda Harris, University of Manchester)
Previous Group members
  • Chloe Baird-Rayner-BSc Cardiovascular Medicine student (co-supervised with Abigail Byford). Awarded BSc (first class) 2021
  • Katie Hugh- MRes student (co-supervised with Dr Rachel Quilang). Awarded MRes (with distinction) 2021
  • Emmanuelle Godinho- MSc Molecular Medicine (intercalating medical student) awarded 2020, University of Leeds
  • Dilasha Gurung- MRes (with distinction) awarded 2020, University of Leeds
  • Katy Walsh- Visiting Research Assistant, University of Leeds (2018-2019)
  • Dr Kate Timms- Postdoctoral research associate, University of Leeds (2018-2019)
  • Eva de la Fuente Luelmo- Visiting Researcher from Universidad CEU San Pablo, Madrid, Spain (2019)
  • Kapampa Mwape- BSc Biomedical Sciences project student( 2018-2019)
  • Panos Ntostis- Research Assistant, University of Leeds
  • Kate Timms- PhD awarded 2018; MRes (with distinction) awarded 2013, University of Manchester
  • Mohamed Elmoursi- PhD awarded 2017, University of Leeds 
  • Bernadette Baker- PhD awarded 2016, University of Manchester
  • Christopher Saxon Whittle- PhD awarded 2016, University of Manchester
  • Lewis Rayner - MSc (with Distinction) awarded 2015, University of Leeds 
  • Michaela Wyner- MSc (with Distinction) awarded 2015, University of Leeds 
  • Lisa Jones - MRes (with Distinction) awarded 2013, University of Manchester
  • Miranda Lees- MRes (with Distinction) awarded 2013, University of Manchester
  • Joshua Jones - MRes (with Distinction) awarded 2012, University of Manchester
  • Farkhondeh Farrokhnia- MRes (with Merit) awarded 2011, University of Manchester 

MRC; BHF; Mason Medical Trust; Mary and Alice Smith Memorial Scholarship; University of Leeds Academic Development Fund; BBSRC DTP studentship; Society for Endocrinology Early Career Grant; Tommy's.

Public Engagement

I am a member of the Society for Endocrinology Public Engagement Committee and a working group member developing the  You and Your Hormones website.

Members of my research group regularly participate in public engagement and outreach activities including Pint of Science,  Be CuriousI'm a Scientist, Skype a Scientist, SoapboxScience and Letters to a Pre-Scientist.

Editorial Duties

I am a member of the Editorial board for The European Journal of Extracellular Vesicles


  • PhD Molecular Biochemistry; University of Strathclyde (2005)
  • BSc (Hons) Immunology & Pharmacology; University of Strathclyde (2001)

Professional memberships

  • Society for Endocrinology
  • UK Society for Extracellular Vesicles
  • Society for Reproduction and Fertility
  • Anatomical Society
  • International Federation of Placenta Associations
  • Genetics Society

Student education

I offer BSc, MSc, MD and PhD research projects in the following areas: reproduction, pregnancy, endocrinology, diabetes, nutrition, developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD), cell biology, cell signalling, non-coding RNAs, extracellular vesicles, molecular biology. Please contact me to enquire about current projects on offer.  

Research groups and institutes

  • Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine
  • Discovery and Translational Science
  • British Heart Foundation - Cardiovascular research
  • Multidisciplinary Cardiovascular Research Centre

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>