Dr Karen Forbes

Dr Karen Forbes


I am an Associate Professor of Molecular Endocrinology and Reproduction. My research team is focussed on understanding how factors in the maternal environment (diet, microRNAs and extracellular vesicles) contribute to altered placental and fetal growth, and long-term health of the offspring, particularly in pregnancies complicated by maternal diabetes. I 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. I have an international reputation in this area and has published extensively in the field.


  • Deputy programme lead for MSc Clinical Embryology and ART

Research interests

Current Projects

  • Defining the contribution of maternally-derived extracellular vesicles and miRNAs to altered placental and fetal growth in pregnancies complicated by maternal diabetes - In collaboration with Professor Eleanor Scott, Professor Susan Ozanne (University of Cambridge), Dr Beth Holder (Imperial College)
  • Investigating the placental vasculature in pregnancies complicated by maternal diabetes-In collaboration with Professor Eleanor Scott, Dr Arash RabbaniDr Jayne Charnock (Edge Hill University), Dr Kristina Haase (EMBL, Barcelona)
  • 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 Prof Niamh Forde & Dr Mary O’Connell (Univeristy of Nottingham)
  • Therapeutically altering placental miRNA levels to improve fetal growth in problem pregnancies - In collaboration with Dr Lynda Harris (University of Nebraska Medical Center)
  • 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)  
  • SWEETTALK: Maternal-to-Placental Communication in pregnancies complicated with metabolic disorders – In collboaration with Prof Sandra Blois, (Universitat Hamburg)

Current group members  

  • Abigail Byford- MRC Funded Postdoctoral Research Assistant
  • Georgia Fakonti- Leeds Doctoral Scholarship PhD student (co-supervised with Prof Eleanor Scott and Dr Beth Holder-Imperial College)
  • Emmanuelle Godinho- Specialised Foundation Programme Doctor
  • Amanda Leow-Obstetrics & Gynaecology Academic Clinical Fellow & Wellbeing of Women Entry Level Scholar (with Dr Nigel Simpson and Professor Eleanor Scott)
  • Manon Owen- BHF 4 year PhD student (co-supervised with Professor Eleanor Scott)
  • Ziyu Shao- MSc Molecular Medicine Student (co-supervised with Dr Abigail Byford)
  • Haidee Tinning - PhD Student (co-supervised with Prof Niamh Forde)
  • Harriet Todd- BHF 4 year PhD student (co-supervised with Dr Lynn McKeown, Dr Chew Cheng, Professor David Beech)
  • Nicole Watt – MRC Funded Postdoctoral Research Fellow
  • Camila Wegricht- MSc Molecular Medicine Student (co-supervised with Dr Amanda MacCannell)

Previous Group members

University of Leeds

  • Jessica Edge- BBSRC DTP PhD student -2019-2023
  • Abigail Byford-BHF 4 year PhD student - PhD awarded 2023
  • Dr Naomi Clement-Obstetrics & Gynaecology Academic Clinical Fellow 
  • Dr Rachel Quilang- Postdoctoral Research Assistant  2019-2023
  • Dr Naima Endesh- Postdoctoral Research Fellow 2022-2023
  • Christopher Trevelyan- BHF funded PhD student- PhD awarded 2022
  • Margeurite Kennedy- PhD awarded 2022
  • Sharanam Soni-MSc Molecular Medicine awarded (with Distinction) 2022
  • Chloe Baird-Rayner-Intercalatinf BSc Cardiovascular Medicine student. Awarded BSc (first class) 2021
  • Katie Hugh- MRes student (co-supervised with Dr Rachel Quilang). Awarded MRes (with Distinction) 2021
  • Dr Sarah Cartland - Clinical Research Fellow (2015-2021) 
  • Emmanuelle Godinho- MSc Molecular Medicine (intercalating medical student)-MSc (with Distinction) awarded 2020
  • Dilasha Gurung- MRes (with Distinction) awarded 2020
  • Katy Walsh- Visiting Research Assistant (2018-2019)
  • Dr Kate Timms- Postdoctoral research associate (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
  • Mohamed Elmoursi- PhD awarded 2017
  • Lewis Rayner - MSc (with Distinction) awarded 2015
  • Michaela Wyner- MSc (with Distinction) awarded 2015

University of Manchester

  • Zhiyong Zou-PhD awarded 2022
  • Kate Timms- PhD awarded 2018; MRes (with Distinction) awarded 2013
  • Bernadette Baker- PhD awarded 2016
  • Christopher Saxon Whittle- PhD awarded 2016
  • Lisa Jones - MRes (with Distinction) awarded 2013
  • Miranda Lees- MRes (with Distinction) awarded 2013
  • Joshua Jones - MRes (with Distinction) awarded 2012
  • Farkhondeh Farrokhnia- MRes (with Merit) awarded 2011


Work in the Forbes group is supported by funding from: MRC; BBSRC; BHF; Wellbeing of Women, Bioscientifica Trust; JDRF-funded IIDP Islet Award Initiative; Mason Medical Trust; Mary and Alice Smith Memorial Scholarship; University of Leeds; Society for Endocrinology; Tommy's.



Other Research & Scholarship Activities

Member of the Society for Endocrinology Science Committee (2024-present)

Member of the Society for Endocrinology Programme Committee (co-opted; 2024-present)

Society for Endocrinology Reproductive Endocrinology and Biology Network Convenor (2023-present)

Editorial board member  for The European Journal of Extracellular Vesicles

Member of the Society for Endocrinology Public Engagement Committee (2019-2023)

Mentor for research students, staff and academics through several mentorship schemes.

Members of the Forbes 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.


  • 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
  • International Society for Extracellular Vesicles

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>