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Research interests

Cellular regulation and cancer

The normal regulation of processes including cell growth, survival, metabolism and migration in many cells relies on a control system called the PI 3-kinase/PTEN signalling pathway. Accordingly, loss of control over PI 3-Kinase signalling drives many types of cancer and is a characteristic of many other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, which has motivated the development of many drugs to target the pathway for the treatment of these conditions.

The PTEN tumour supperssor : We have been studying the role of the different activities of PTEN, in particular why it can remoive phosphate groups from both lipid and protein substrates. We've also been trying to understyand why specific types of mutations in the tumour suppressor PTEN lead to different symptoms in individuals who inherit these mutations. 

3D Bioprinted cancer models: Having worked with 3D cell culture systems for many years, we have recently begun to develop 3D bioprinting methods to control the positioning of cancer cells, stromal cells and matrix components within tumour constructs. These projects, currently focusing on glioblastoma and pancreatic cancer, aim to provide new experimental models to study the tumour microenvironment and potentially for drug testing. 

References: Tibarewal et al, 2012, Science Signaling, 5, ra18; Leslie and Foti, 2011, Trends Pharmacol. Sci., 32, p131; Spinelli et al, 2015, J. Med Genet, 52, p128; Tabriz et al, 2015, Biofabrication, 7, 045012


Prof Nick Leslie and his laboratory have two related areas of research. Firstly, how the loss of control over cellular signal transduction mechanisms drive the development of many cancers, with a long term interest in the tumour suppressor and lipid phosphatase, PTEN. For some years, his group has studied the post-translational regulation of PTEN activity that is applied by phosphorylation, oxidation and ubiquitination of the enzyme. Secondly, through collaborations with bioengineers, the group have been applying new technologies to cancer research, specifically using 3D bioprinting to develop new cultured cell models of cancer and also using microfluidics to enrich and detect cell free DNA in the circulation of cancer patients.


Nick completed his first degree in Genetics at Cambridge University and a PhD at Glasgow University with David Sherratt, FRS. After PostDoctoral research at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, he moved to Dundee to work with Peter Downes and Philip Cohen at the inception of their pharmaceutical collaboration, the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy. It was in Dundee that Nick began studying the PI 3-kinase signalling pathway and PTEN. Nick was appointed as an Independent Investigator there in 2002 and moved his lab to Heriot Watt University in  2013.

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Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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