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. 


  • 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


Reduced (fetal growth restriction) or enhanced fetal growth (macrosomia) can not only lead to complications during pregnancy and at birth, but these conditions are 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, 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

Current group members  

  • 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- PhD student (co-supervised with Dr Niamh Forde and Dr Mary O’Connell)
  • Emmanuelle Godinho- MRes student
  • Dilasha Gurung- MRes Student 
  • Margeurite Kennedy- PhD Student, University of Leeds  (co-supervised with Professor Eleanor Scott and Dr Nigel Simpson)
  • Dr Rachel Quilang- Postdoctoral Research Assistant  (MRC funded)
  • Dr Kate Timms-Postdoctoral Research Fellow (MRC funded)
  • Haidee Tinning - PhD Student, University of Leeds (co-supervised with Dr Niamh Forde)
  • Katy Walsh- Visiting Research Assistant, University of Leeds  
  • Zhiyong Zou-PhD Student, University of Manchester (co-supervised with Professor Alex Heazell and Dr Lynda Harris)

Previous Group members

  • 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, University of Manchester
  • Mohamed Elmoursi- PhD awarded 2017, University of Leeds 
  • Bernadette Baker- PhD awarded 2016, University of Manchester
  • Christopher 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
  • Kate Timms- 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 

Postgraduate research opportunities

We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our research opportunities allow you to search for projects and scholarships.


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

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 and Letters to a Pre-Scientist.


  • 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

Teaching responsibilities

  • Deputy programme lead for MSc Clinical Embryology and ART.
  • Module manager and lecturer for taught postgraduate programmes in MSc in Clinical Embryology (distance learning) and MSc Clinical Embryology and ART.  
  • Personal tutor for students undertaking the following programmes: MRes Medicine, MSc Clinical Embryology and ART, MSc in Clinical Embryology (distance learning) 
  • I am a member of the School of Medicine Taught Student Education Committee and the Student Support Committee.

Student research projects

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

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>