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) 
  • Defining the role of maternally-derived extracellular vesicles in pregnancies complicated by maternal diabetes -In collaborations 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)
  • 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)  

Current group members  

  • Abigail Byford-BHF 4 year PhD student (co-supervised with Professor Eleanor Scott, Dr Virginia Pensabene and Dr Nigel Simpson)
  • Dr Naomi Clement-Obstetrics & Gynaecology Academic Clinical Fellow (with Dr Nigel Simpson and Professor Eleanor Scott)
  • Janani Damodharan- MSc Molecular Medicine student 
  • Jessica Edge- BBSRC DTP PhD student (co-supervised with Prof Niamh Forde and Dr Mary O’Connell)
  • Georgia Fakonti- Leeds Doctoral Shholarship PhD student (co-supervised with Prof Eleanor Scott and Dr Beth Holder-Imperial College)
  • 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)
  • 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)

Previous Group members

University of Leeds

  • 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-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


MRC; BHF; Wellbeing of Women, 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

Leadership Roles

I am Society for Endocrinology Reproductive Endocrinology and Biology Network Convenor


  • 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>