Programme Director

Mona is Senior Lecturer in Infectious Diseases and Mucosal Immunology at the Institute of Child Health. After a degree in Biochemistry, she conducted her PhD under the supervision of Sir Tom Blundell at Birkbeck College, London where her interest in protein structure and function was ignited. After post-doctoral stints at Cancer Research UK and Kings College, London she spent 3 years working in industry. In 1998, she was appointed Lecturer in Adult Gastroenterology, Barts and the London Medical School and in 2002 joined ICH. Her current research interest is to better our understanding of how the gut mucosal immune system is able to distinguish between pathogens and the harmless commensals that live in their trillions in the human colon. Mona is very passionate about educating the next generation of scientists and has been Director of the MRes in Biomedicine since 2007, a responsibility she is wholeheartedly enjoying.

Co Director

  • Dr Alan Burns
Research Description

The overall aim of my work is to better understand, and establish novel treatments for, disorders/diseases resulting from abnormal development of the neuromuscular components of the gastrointestinal tract. Normal gut contraction and function requires the coordinated interaction of enteric neurons and glia, interstitial cells of Cajal, and smooth muscle cells. Defects in the development of these cell types results in a range of commonly occurring gut disorders/diseases including Hirschsprung disease (aganglionic hindgut), intestinal pseudo-obstruction, and other motility defects. We take a number of approaches, in collaboration with groups locally, nationally and internationally to:

(i) investigate the mechanisms controlling enteric nervous system (ENS) formation from neural crest-derived precursors

(ii) determine, by functional analysis, whether candidate genes identified in enteric neuropathies and myopathies, are actually disease causing genes

(iii) develop novel stem cell-based therapies for aganglionic gut disorders such as Hirschsprung disease

(iv) use tisue engineering approaches to manufacture replacements for diseased gut.

Research Activities

Normal and abnormal development of the neuromuscular components of the gut

Novel therapies for gut disorders/diseases

Education Description

I am co-director of the MRes in Biomedicine course which is based at UCL Institute of Child Health. This is a comprehensive, one year laboratory research orientated course designed to train and equip students prior to entering PhD or higher degree training.  Tasks involve organizing and helping to deliver a three month taught module. This is followed by placing and assessing students in a three month mini project and six month maxi project in areas such as birth defects research, stem cell research, infection and immunity, childhood development and metabolic defects and cancer. I also teach at post-graduate level on the  MSc in Molecular Medicine (UCL Institute of Child Health),  MSc in Prenatal Genetics and Fetal Medicine (UCL), MSc in Paediatric Gastroenterology (Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry), and at undergraduate level for the BSc Cellular and Developmental Neurobiology (UCL).

Course Tutor

  • Dr Ryan O'Shaughnessy

After my biochemistry degree from Imperial College, I studied for a PhD at Cancer Research UK with Professors Anna Marie Frischauf and Fiona Watt. I then went to Columbia University in New York for my first postdoctoral post, studying epithelial-mesenchymal interactions in the hair follicle with Professor Angela Christiano, before a second postdoctoral post in the Centre for Cutaneous Research, studying epidermal barrier acquisition, with Professor Carolyn Byrne. I started at the institute of Child Health in 2008

My group’s main research interest is the establishment and strengthening of the epidermal barrier, and how these processes are affected in keratinocytes in people with epidermal diseases, specifically  the scaling disease lamellar ichthyosis and atopic dermatitis (eczema), and the exploitation of these differences as potential novel therapies. We have recently published work showing that interleukin-1 alpha activity is both necessary and sufficient for the scaling seen in lamellar ichthyosis, and that blocking this activity is enough to reduce scaling in in-vitro models of lamellar ichthyosis.

Programme Administrator

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