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The University of Southampton
(023) 8120 5986

Dr Karl Staples BSc (Hons), PhD, FHEA

Associate Professor in Translational Medicine, Enterprise Fellow

Dr Karl Staples's photo

Dr Karl Staples is an Associate Professor in Translational Medicine within the Faculty of Medicine. His research focuses on the role of the macrophage in chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and how the function of these cells can be changed by infection with common respiratory viruses like influenza. He is also an Enterprise Fellow for Clinical & Experimental Sciences Academic acting as an interface between the Faculty and external partners.

Macrophages are often thought of as the housekeepers of the lung, removing dust and debris that are inhaled, but these cells act as an important brake on the immune system, keeping inflammation to a minimum. This braking effect appears to be reduced in asthma, COPD and by viral infections. My research concentrates on trying to restore this brake and reduce the inflammation in these diseases.

He was introduced to the respiratory immunology field during his doctoral studies with Professor Peter Barnes, FRS, and Dr Robert Newton at the NHLI, Imperial College, London. Here he investigated the mechanisms by which the release of the cytokines interleukin (IL)-5 and GM-CSF from T cells are modulated by anti-inflammatory therapeutics, such as glucocorticoids and phosphodiesterase (PDE) inhibitors. After an interesting postdoctoral post at Cornell University in New York investigating the function of STAT proteins, the key cytokine signalling molecules, he joined Prof. Löms Ziegler-Heitbrock at the University of Leicester to study cytokine release from macrophages.

A key factor in his move to Southampton was that it allowed him to expand his research interest back into airways disease. This interest led to the award of an Asthma UK project grant in 2008 to study the phenotype and function of macrophages derived from the airway of asthmatics.  Since the award of this first grant, he has developed ex vivo models of infection of lung samples that have led to further funding (e.g. BMA, AZ) and multiple publications.  These models are being expanded to investigate multiple hypotheses by his growing research team of postdoctoral scientists and PhD students.

Degree Qualifications

B.Sc. (Hons), Biochemistry (Toxicology), University of Surrey (1996)
Ph.D., Biochemistry, Imperial College London (2001)
Postgraduate Certificate, Academic Practice, University of Southampton (2008)

Appointments held

Research Associate, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, USA 2001-2003

Research Associate, Division of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation, University of Leicester 2003-2006

Research Fellow, Clinical & Experimental Sciences, University of Southampton 2006-2010

Senior Research Fellow, Clinical & Experimental Sciences, University of Southampton, 2010-2015

Lecturer, Clinical & Experimental Sciences, University of Southampton, 2016-2018

Research interests

Dr Staples’ research focuses on host-pathogen interactions in chronic inflammatory airways diseases, such as asthma and COPD, and the contribution of these interactions to exacerbations of these respiratory conditions.  His current research is broadly split along the following lines:

1. Virus-induced exacerbations of airways disease 

Based upon his experience of culturing and infecting human lung explants with influenza (Staples et al 2015, Nicholas et al 2015) Dr Staples’ group is following up the observation that macrophages from the COPD lung are unable to control virus-induced T cell activation (McKendry et al 2016).  This project is sponsored by AstraZeneca and is using bronchoscopic samples from COPD patients to explore the underlying mechanisms of this defect with the aim of identifying novel therapies for COPD exacerbations.  At the same time, the group are also trying to understand the cross-talk between the epithelial cells that line the airway and the macrophages during infection by developing new in vitro co-culture models. This project has been extended to analyse the interaction of influenza-infected lung macrophages with both T cells (BMA HC Roscoe award) and NK cells (MRC-funded Integrated PhD studentship).

2. Bacteria-induced exacerbations of airways disease 

It is now increasingly apparent that even in health the lungs are not sterile, being host to a diverse population of bacteria, known as the “microbiome”.  In COPD, this microbiome appears to be dysregulated (Mayhew et al 2017), with a substantial proportion of patients being chronically colonised with the bacteria non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) (Wilkinson et al 2017).  Dr Staples’ group have not only developed co-culture models to analyse the NTHi-induced activation of conventional T cells and unconventional mucosal-associated invariant T cells (MAIT) from human blood (Hinks, Wallington et al 2016), but have also extended this to analysing NTHi infections of human lung explants (Wallington et al 2017).  The group are currently applying these techniques to tissues derived from COPD patients to analyse differences in the responses to NTHi between health and disease.

3. Interaction of viruses and bacteria in the airways 

Influenza infection is known to predispose to secondary bacterial pneumonias, possibly by disrupting the ability of macrophages to phagocytose bacteria (Cooper et al 2016).  However, based on data from the Southampton AERIS longitudinal COPD cohort, it is also apparent that chronic colonisation with NTHi may also predispose to viral infections (Wilkinson et al 2017).  Dr Staples’ Asthma UK-funded Integrated PhD student is investigating how lung macrophage anti-viral activity is modulated by infection with bacteria using many of the techniques already outlined.  In addition this project will use dual RNASeq to understand not only host gene expression in response to infection but also changes in bacterial gene expression. 

Research group

Clinical and Experimental Sciences

Research project(s)

Chinese Herbal medicine to aid AnTibiotic use reduction in exacerbation of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (CHAT COPD)

Postgraduate student supervision

MRes and MPhil/PhD students

Faculty of Medicine

CES Enterprise Fellow
CES Member of Postgraduate Student Progress Committee
CES Member of Faculty Research Programmes Committee
Internal PhD Examiner

University of Southampton

Member of Senate

National Responsibilities

Meetings Secretary of the British Association for Lung Research Committee
Member of the British Society for Immunology Wessex Immunology Group Committee
Member of the British Society for Immunology Infection and Immunity Affinity Group
External Examiner, MRes Biomedical Sciences, Imperial College, London
External PhD Examiner

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Book Chapters



BM4 & BM5. Delivers small group teaching and lectures in years 1 and 2.

BMedSc & MMedSc. Research project supervisor

BSc Biomedical Science. Pathophysiology of the Lung co-module leader and lecturer

MSc Allergy. Allergic Airways Disease co-module leader and lecturer

MSc Genomic Medicine. Lecturer on Pharmacogenomics and Stratified Medicine module.

MSc Biomedical Engineering. Translational Medicine module designer/leader

Integrated PhD programme. Lecturer on Infection and Immunity module and MRes Research Project supervisor

Dr Karl Staples
Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Building 85, Life Sciences Building, Highfield Campus, Southampton, SO171BJ

Room Number: SGH/LF114/MP810

Facsimile: (023) 8070 1771

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