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Personal profile


Rory Duncan (University Senior Academic Lead for Strategy and Development) was founding Head of the Institute of Biological chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering at Heriot-Watt University, applying advances in EPS to life science challenges. He is PI and Co-Director of the Edinburgh super-resolution imaging consortium (ESRIC, www.esric.org) with support from MRC/BBSRC/EPSRC and the Wellcome Trust, developing and applying super-resolution imaging modalities. This programme of work was awarded the Times Higher ‘STEM Research Project of the Year 2018/18’. 

Rory’s work spans many Disciplines and he has publications in leading biology, chemistry, engineering and physics journals, and he holds multiple patents. Rory sits on and is ad hocChair of STFC Science Board, the principal scientific advisory committee providing strategic oversight on all research activities for that Research Council and is part of the Accelerator International Strategic Review Panel, shaping strategy for the next 25 years. He is a member of the Scottish Parliamentary Cross-Party Group for Life Sciences. 

Rory has won several awards for science communication and was awarded the Royal Society of Edinburgh Senior Medal for Public Engagement in 2018 for his ‘passion and enormously productive advocacy for public engagement in Scotland, the UK and internationally’. His current role is as Senior Academic Lead for Strategy and Development for Heriot-Watt University, developing and implementing the instiutional 7-year Strategy between 2019-25.




Research interests

My immediate research focus is on regulated secretion and membrane fusion. Over the last decade, we have established a series of cutting-edge functional and super-resolution imaging techniques that address membrane trafficking in living cells in real-time. This has led to a number of high-profile publications in the current REF period in international Journals including Nature, the EMBO JournalCurrent BiologyNature Communications and Cell. Much of this work was established using cell-lines and as such was technically advanced, but somewhat limiting in terms of cell biology discovery science.

Thus, at present, this research is being extended to use primary, human donor material – pancreatic islets. Islets are the multicellular organoid structures that synthesise and secrete insulin and other hormones, and if this becomes misregulated, it leads to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

I work within a growing international collaboration with US, Canadian (Edmonton and Toronto), EU and Korean partners with privileged access to healthy, and Type 1 Diabetic islets. My focus for the next 5 years therefore is to quantify in 4-dimensions, the dynamics and interactions of SNARE proteins and other accessory factors in diseases such as diabetes and also in fundamental studies of autophagy. I employ a range of molecular biology, biochemical and optical imaging and spectroscopy approaches; the latter including world-leading super-resolution and functional imaging spectroscopies. This work is presently being extended with mathematicians and computer scientists to use machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to predict the performance of pancreatic islets in vivo.

Roles & Responsibilities

External positions

Canadian Foundation for Innovation

Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

Science & Technology Facilities Council

University of Edinburgh

Wellcome Trust

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Research Output

  • 51 Article
  • 3 Conference contribution
  • 2 Other
  • 1 Chapter (peer-reviewed)

A VPS33A-binding motif on syntaxin17 controls autophagy completion in mammalian cells

Saleeb, R. S., Kavanagh, D. M., Dun, A. R., Dalgarno, P. A. & Duncan, R. R., 15 Mar 2019, In : Journal of Biological Chemistry. 294, 11, p. 4188-4201 14 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
  • 31 Downloads (Pure)

    Fluorescence lifetime imaging of high-speed particles with single-photon image sensors

    Gyongy, I., Green, A., Hutchings, S. W., Davies, A., Dutton, N. A. W., Duncan, R. R., Rickman, C., Henderson, R. K. & Dalgarno, P. A., 4 Mar 2019, High-Speed Biomedical Imaging and Spectroscopy IV. Tsia, K. K. & Goda, K. (eds.). SPIE, 108890O. (Proceedings of SPIE; vol. 10889).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

  • High fidelity fibre-based physiological sensing deep in tissue

    Choudhary, T., Tanner, M. G., Megia-Fernandez, A., Harrington, K., Wood, H. A. C., Marshall, A., Zhu, P., Chankeshwara, S. V., Choudhury, D., Monro, G., Ucuncu, M., Yu, F., Duncan, R. R., Thomson, R. R., Dhaliwal, K. & Bradley, M., 22 May 2019, In : Scientific Reports. 9, 7713.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • 9 Downloads (Pure)

    SWAP70 undergoes dynamic conformational regulation at the leading edge of migrating cells

    Kriplani, N., Duncan, R. R. & Leslie, N. R., Feb 2019, In : FEBS Letters. 593, 4, p. 395-405 11 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • A 256 x 256, 100-kfps, 61% Fill-Factor SPAD Image Sensor for Time-Resolved Microscopy Applications

    Gyongy, I., Calder, N., Davies, A., Dutton, N. A. W., Duncan, R. R., Rickman, C., Dalgarno, P. A. & Henderson, R. K., Feb 2018, In : IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices. 65, 2, p. 547-554 8 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • 523 Downloads (Pure)


    Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship

    Rory Duncan (Recipient), 2004

    Prize: Fellowship awarded competitively


    Scottish Parliament (External organisation)

    Rory R. Duncan (Chair)
    1 Mar 20181 May 2020

    Activity: MembershipMembership of Advisory Panel

    Science & Technology Facilities Council (External organisation)

    Rory R. Duncan (Chair)

    Activity: MembershipMembership of Advisory Panel

    Science, jellyfish, science and art

    Rory Duncan (Speaker)
    1 Apr 2016

    Activity: Talk or presentationPublic lecture

    Beyond the naked eye

    Rory Duncan (Speaker)
    6 Jun 2015

    Activity: Talk or presentationPublic lecture

    Science & Technology Facilities Council (External organisation)

    Rory Duncan (Member)
    2015 → …

    Activity: MembershipMembership of committee

    Press / Media

    What do biologists, physicists and jellyfish have in common?

    Rory Duncan


    1 Media contribution

    Press/Media: Research