Professor Simon Whawell

Professor Simon Whawell

Professor of Integrated Oral Sciences

Peninsula Dental School (Faculty of Health)



I am a biochemist and cell biologist with an interest in the molecular mechanisms of disease. I have collaborated closely with fellow scientists, surgeons, pathologists and, for the last 25 years, dental colleagues. Following undergraduate studies in Life Sciences, I carried out a PhD and postdoctoral work at St Mary’s & the Hammersmith Hospitals in London investigating the mechanism of peritoneal adhesion formation. I then worked in the field of vascular biology at the Thrombosis Research Institute, London before I joined the Oral Pathologist Professor Paul Speight at the Eastman Dental Institute, University College London where I was made Lecturer. In 2003 I moved to the School of Clinical Dentistry, University of Sheffield where I had School & Faculty responsibilities for Undergraduate and Masters programmes. In January 2022, I was appointed to a Chair of Integrated Oral Sciences at Peninsula Dental School University of Plymouth.


BSc (Hons), Polytechnic of Central London (1986). 

PhD, St Mary's Hospital, Imperial College London (1990).

DipEd, University of Sheffield (2007).

Professional membership

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2007).

Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists by published works (2017).

Member of the International Association for Dental Research & British Society for Oral & Dental Research (Chair of the Awards Committee 2011-15)

Member of the Association for Science Educators in Dentistry



Teaching interests

I am an experienced teacher of fundamental science subjects to both clinical and non-clinical undergraduates and postgraduates including biochemistry, histology, physiology and pathology in laboratory, classroom and online settings. I led the first BDS Human Body module at the University of Sheffield, introduced virtual microscopy, biochemistry and physiology practical classes and was 1st year lead for the BSc in Bio-dental Science & technology. I was programme director for the MMedSci in Diagnostic Oral Pathology (2005-2012), School Director of PGT programmes (2012-2016), Faculty Lead for PGT (2017-2020) & Head of the Graduate School (2018-2020). I have co-written and edited a text book to support basic science teaching for dental students.

I currently teach years 1 &2 Dental Surgery and Dental Therapy & Hygiene students at Plymouth.

Staff serving as external examiners


External Examiner Queen's University Belfast, BDS 1 Biomedical Sciences & BDS 2 Disease Mechanisms


Cardiff University, BDS 2 Oral Biology

King's College, University of London, BDS 2 Oral Biology

Queen Mary University of London, BDS part 1

University of the West Indies, Trinidad, BDS 1 Oral Biology



Research interests

My current research interests lie in two main areas:

1. Molecular mechanisms of oral cancer invasion. Previous work has included studies of the roles of the extracellular matrix, proteases and integrin receptors in oral cancer cell motility. More recently I have worked with Professor Dan Lambert (University of Sheffield) on the role of fibroblasts, adipocytes and stem cells in the tumour microenvironment.

2. Cellular Microbiology. For a number of years I have investigated the molecular mechanism of bacterial invasion into host cells. This has included work with Staphylococcus aureus and latterly with the periodontal pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis. Current work with Professor Julia Weinstein (University of Sheffield) has developed photodynamic therapy approaches to targeting these intracellular pathogens.

Other research

Knowledge exchange & Industrial collaborations

I developed and led fruitful collaborations with academic colleagues (Dr Helen Colley & Professor Craig Murdoch, University of Sheffield) & Industrial partners including significant funding from Colgate-Palmolive Inc. and Haleon plc to develop in vitro models of oral mucosa for testing of oral healthcare products and to mimic denture wear.

Research degrees awarded to supervised students

Research projects supervised for 3 Intercalated BSc & 15 MMedSci students

8 PhD awarded to students for which I was primary supervisor, 6 as co-supervisor

Current PhD students:

Basma Ali (primary supervisor) The role of adipocytes in oral cancer invasion.

Maria Perciato (secondary supervisor) Characterization of novel roles of ADAMs family in cancer associated fibroblasts: shaping the tumour-promoting microenvironment.

Isuru Muthukuda (Joint primary) Novel Iridium complex as a new antimicrobial photodynamic therapy agent.

Grants & contracts

Selected recent funding:

Haleon plc (formerly GSK) £192k (2023)

Oral & Dental Research Trust £4.4k (2018)

Colgate-Palmolive Inc. £232k (2013)

University of Sheffield, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health innovation Fund £8.8k (2013)

Yorkshire Cancer Research £81k (2007) & £30k (2009)



Key publications

Key publications are highlighted

Al-Magsoosi MJN, Lambert DW, Ali Khurram S & Whawell SA (2020) 'Oral cancer stem cells drive tumourigenesis through activation of stromal fibroblasts' Oral Diseases 27, (6) 1383-1393 , DOI
Abdullah Zubir AZ, Whawell SA, Wong TS & Khurram SA (2020) 'The chemokine lymphotactin and its recombinant variants in oral cancer cell regulation' Oral Diseases 26, (8) 1668-1676 , DOI
Al-Taweel FBH, Al-Magsoosi MJN, Douglas CWI & Whawell SA (2018) 'Identification of key determinants in<i>Porphyromonas gingivalis</i>host-cell invasion assays' European Journal of Oral Sciences 126, (5) 367-372 , DOI
Jennings LR, Colley HE, Ong J, Panagakos F, Masters JG, Trivedi HM, Murdoch C & Whawell S (2016) 'Development and Characterization of<i>In Vitro</i>Human Oral Mucosal Equivalents Derived from Immortalized Oral Keratinocytes' Tissue Engineering Part C: Methods 22, (12) 1108-1117 , DOI
Nithiananthan S, Crawford A, Knock JC, Lambert DW & Whawell SA (2016) 'Physiological Fluid Flow Moderates Fibroblast Responses to TGF-β1' Journal of Cellular Biochemistry 118, (4) 878-890 , DOI
Al-Taweel FB, Douglas CWI & Whawell SA (2016) 'The Periodontal Pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis Preferentially Interacts with Oral Epithelial Cells in S Phase of the Cell Cycle' Infection and Immunity 84, (7) 1966-1974 , DOI
Khurram SA, Bingle L, McCabe BM, Farthing PM & Whawell SA (2014) 'The chemokine receptors CXCR1 and CXCR2 regulate oral cancer cell behaviour' Journal of Oral Pathology &amp; Medicine 43, (9) 667-674 , DOI
Pinnock A, Murdoch C, Moharamzadeh K, Whawell S & Douglas CWI (2014) 'Characterisation and optimisation of organotypic oral mucosal models to study Porphyromonas gingivalis invasion' Microbes and Infection 16, (4) 310-319 , DOI
Evans LJ, Loescher AR, Boissonade FM, Whawell SA, Robinson PP & Andrew D (2014) 'Temporal mismatch between pain behaviour, skin Nerve Growth Factor and intra-epidermal nerve fibre density in trigeminal neuropathic pain' BMC Neuroscience 15, (1) , DOI
Jones AV, Lambert DW, Speight PM & Whawell SA (2013) 'ADAM 10 is over expressed in oral squamous cell carcinoma and contributes to invasive behaviour through a functional association with αvβ6 integrin' FEBS Letters 587, (21) 3529-3534 , DOI
Ridley RA, Douglas I & Whawell SA (2012) 'Differential adhesion and invasion by Staphylococcus aureus of epithelial cells derived from different anatomical sites' Journal of Medical Microbiology 61, (12) 1654-1661 , DOI
Hinsley EE, Kumar S, Hunter KD, Whawell SA & Lambert DW (2012) 'Endothelin-1 stimulates oral fibroblasts to promote oral cancer invasion' Life Sciences 91, (13-14) 557-561 , DOI
Roy S, Bingle L, Marshall JF, Bass R, Ellis V, Speight PM & Whawell SA (2011) 'The role of α9β1 integrin in modulating epithelial cell behaviour' Journal of Oral Pathology &amp; Medicine 40, (10) 755-761 , DOI
Hinsley EE, Hunt S, Hunter KD, Whawell SA & Lambert DW (2011) 'Endothelin-1 stimulates motility of head and neck squamous carcinoma cells by promoting stromal-epithelial interactions' International Journal of Cancer 130, (1) 40-47 , DOI
Hunt S, Jones AV, Hinsley EE, Whawell SA & Lambert DW (2010) 'MicroRNA-124 suppresses oral squamous cell carcinoma motility by targeting ITGB1' FEBS Letters 585, (1) 187-192 , DOI
Suwannakul S, Stafford GP, Whawell SA & Douglas CWI (2010) 'Identification of bistable populations of Porphyromonas gingivalis that differ in epithelial cell invasion' Microbiology 156, (10) 3052-3064 , DOI
Jenkinson SE, Whawell SA, Swales BM, Corps EM, Kilshaw PJ & Farthing PM (2010) 'The αE(CD103)β7 integrin interacts with oral and skin keratinocytes in an E-cadherin-independent manner*' Immunology 132, (2) 188-196 , DOI
Khurram SA, Whawell SA, Bingle L, Murdoch C, McCabe BM & Farthing PM (2010) 'Functional expression of the chemokine receptor XCR1 on oral epithelial cells' The Journal of Pathology 221, (2) 153-163 , DOI
Wallâ? IB, Bhadalâ? N, Broad S, Whawell SA, Mudera V & Lewis MP (2009) 'Force generation and protease gene expression in organotypic co-cultures of fibroblasts and keratinocytes' Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine 3, (8) 647-650 , DOI
Bhadal N, Wall IB, Porter SR, Broad S, Lindahl GE, Whawell S & Lewis MP (2007) 'The effect of mechanical strain on protease production by keratinocytes' British Journal of Dermatology 158, (2) 396-398 , DOI
Al-Hazmi N, Thomas GJ, Speight PM & Whawell SA (2007) 'The 120 kDa cell-binding fragment of fibronectin up-regulates migration of αvβ6-expressing cells by increasing matrix metalloproteinase-2 and -9 secretion' European Journal of Oral Sciences 115, (6) 454-458 , DOI
Bennett JH, Morgan MJ, Whawell SA, Atkin P, Roblin P, Furness J & Speight PM (2000) 'Metalloproteinase expression in normal and malignant oral keratinocytes: stimulation of MMP-2 and -9 by scatter factor' European Journal of Oral Sciences 108, (4) 281-291 , DOI


Reports & invited lectures

Winter School Seminar, Tehran University School of Dentistry, Online (2021)

British Society for Dental Hygiene & Therapy, Leeds (2019)

Research seminar, University of the West Indies, School of Dentistry, Trinidad (2017)

Research seminar, School of Dental Sciences, Newcastle University (2017)

Advances in Cell & Tissue Culture meeting, Manchester (2017)

Association of Basic Science teachers in Dentistry, Plymouth (2011)

Research seminar, Eastman Dental Institute London, (2008)

Conferences organised

Organising Committee, British Society for Oral & Dental Research Meeting, Sheffield (2011)

Symposium Organiser & Chair Pan European Federation, International Association for Dental Research, Barcelona (2010)

Symposium Organiser & Chair Pan European Federation, International Association for Dental Research, Dublin (2006)

Other academic activities

External reviewer, Higher Council for the Evaluation of Research & Higher Education, Nice University, France (2016)

Young Investigator Award Committee ( 2010-2013) & Oral Pathology & Medicine Group Member at Large (2014), International Association for Dental Research 

Scientific advisor to the £2.9M Wellcome Trust sponsored 'All about me' Exhibition Development Committee, Eureka Children's Museum, Halifax (2012-2014)

Additional information

Supervised student prizes:

Junior Colgate Prize, British Society for Oral & Dental Research (2018)

British Society of Periodontology Basic Science Poster Prize (2016)

Unilever Poster Prize, British Society for Oral & Dental Research (2008 & 2010)

Hatton Awards Runner up, International Association for Dental Research (2009)

Senior Colgate Prize, British Society for Oral & Dental Research (2008)