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The University of Southampton
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Dr Susan Wilson BSc (hons), PhD

Associate Professor and Head of the Histochemistry Research Unit

Dr Susan Wilson's photo

Dr Susan Wilson is an associate professor and Head of the Histochemistry Research Unit within Medicine at the University of Southampton. Her research focuses on the pathobiology of the allergic inflammatory response and airways remodelling in the lungs in severe asthma. Teaching responsibilities include leading the BM5 project module, facilitating histology workshops in year 1 of the BM programmes and technical teaching across the Faculty and University.

Susan Wilson initially trained as a Biomedical Scientist in histopathology within the National Health Service. After gaining her Fellowship of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences in Cellular Pathology, she took a position at the University of Southampton. Susan was a founding member of Professor Holgate’s asthma bronchoscopy research programme and provided histopathology support. This work has been key to developing and furthering our understanding of the pathobiology of asthma. During this time she studied for a PhD in Mucosal Inflammation. Susan has over 30 years' experience in histopathology and now heads the Histochemistry Research Unit (HRU) within the Faculty of Medicine and has her own program of research.

The HRU ( is a core facility and offers a full histopathology support service for work being undertaken Faculty of Medicine and wider University. The Unit is internationally recognised for its histopathology expertise, having numerous external collaborative links both with academic and commercial organisations across Europe and the USA. It is particularly known internationally for the use of glycol methacrylate (GMA) resin embedding of mucosal biopsies taken from the lung, nose, gut, conjunctiva and skin for immunohistochemistry procedures. A range of image analysis techniques are can then be applied to the stained sections. This GMA technique is utilised for many research projects investigating the mechanisms of mucosal inflammation, particularly asthma, rhinitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The HRU also undertakes immunohistochemical and histological analysis for clinical trials, investigating the effects of existing and novel therapeutics on mucosal inflammation.


BSc Applied Biology, Sunderland Polytechnic, 1984
Fellowship Exam in Cellular Pathology, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, 1988
PhD Mucosal Immunology, University of Southampton, 1994

Appointments held

Biomedical Scientist in the Electron Microscope Unit, Southampton General Hospital, where state registration with the HPC was gained, 1984 – 1987.

Biomedical Scientist in the diagnostic Histology Laboratory, Southampton General Hospital, 1988 – 1989.

Research Assistant, University Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, 1989 – 1994.

Research Fellow and Manager of the Immunohistochemistry Laboratory, Respiratory Cell & Molecular Biology Research Division, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, 1994 – 1999.

Head of the Histochemistry Research Unit , Infection, Inflammation & Repair, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, 1999-2008


Senior Lecturer and Head of the Histochemistry Research Unit, Faculty of Medicine, 2008-2014

Associate Professor and Head of the Histochemistry Research Unit, Faculty of Medicine, 2014 to present


Research interests

Dr Susan Wilson’s research focuses on the pathobiology of the allergic inflammatory response and airways remodelling in the lungs in severe asthma. Her current project is:

The Immunopathology of severe asthma

Severe asthma has a heterogeneous clinical phenotype and pathology. Patients experience frequent exacerbations and/or progressive airways obstruction despite high levels of therapy. Therefore there is a need to develop new treatments that are effective for severe asthma. This is hampered due to the lack of understanding of pathology and molecular disease mechanisms in this patient group. The U-BIOPRED (Unbiased Biomarkers for the Predictions of Respiratory Disease Outcomes) consortium was a pan-European IMI funded study that aimed to sub-phenotype severe asthma using an innovative systems medicine approach, including ‘omics’ technologies. This has included clinical and pathological characterisation leading to numerous publications. Further research on the data and samples collected in this study is ongoing.

Recent work has also included:

The effects of pollutants on bronchial inflammation in asthma, rhinitis and COPD

Epidemiological evidence demonstrates that exposure to traffic derived pollutants especially diesel exhaust lead to a worsening of asthma symptoms. Collaborative studies with the University of Umeå in Sweden have used controlled human exposure studies to diesel exhaust with the collection of bronchial mucosal samples to investigate the mechanisms responsible for the clinical symptoms. In healthy subjects exposure to diesel induces an increase in cytokine and adhesion molecule expression accompanied by an inflammatory cell influx. This is not observed in subjects with asthma or rhinitis. This differential response to diesel is being investigated further. [Salvi S 2000; Pourazar J 2004, 2005 & 2008; Behndig 2006 & 2011].

Relationship between squamous metaplasia, smoking history and COPD

Normally, the bronchial epithelium is pseudostratified and there is a balance between the rate of cell proliferation, differentiation and cell loss to maintain the epithelial structure and phenotype. However, several factors, including toxic injury induced by cigarette smoke, can disturb this balance and induce squamous metaplasia which is a pre-malignant lesion that can progress to carcinoma in situ and finally to invasive carcinoma. Whilst squamous metaplasia is a well-established feature in the bronchial epithelium of smokers, no studies to date have attempted to quantify it precisely and to relate it to smoking history or COPD status. Identification of squamous metaplasia in bronchial biopsies and its quantification in particular are difficult on the basis of morphology alone. Proper orientation of the biopsies is not always possible, such that areas of epithelium cut perpendicularly are difficult to distinguish from areas of squamous metaplasia, particularly when the cells have an intermediate squamous phenotype. We have, therefore, developed a panel of antibodies for the identification of squamous metaplasia in bronchial biopsies [Merrifield 2010]. Ongoing work is employing this panel to quantify the extent of squamous metaplasia in subjects with and without COPD and to relate it to smoking history.

The role of the eosinophil in the airway remodelling response

It is recognised that asthma, especially severe and fatal, may consists of two eosinophilic phenotypes. Some subjects have a high airway eosinophilia and some a low airway eosinophilia. The presence of eosinophils is regarded as an indicator of corticosteroid responsiveness and risk of exacerbation. How airway eosinophilia is related to remodelling, another key feature of asthma, is poorly understood and is subject of ongoing investigations.

The effects of the anti-IgE antibody, omalizumab

on mechanisms that regulate airway inflammation and to find evidence of effects on airway remodelling in mild to moderate asthmatics We have shown that Omalizumab is able to down-regulate the TH2 allergic inflammatory response in mild asthma. Recent studies have investigated the effects of anti-IgE therapy on the remodelling response, which is also a key feature of asthma [Djukanovic R 2004].

The effects of inhaled corticosteroid and long-acting β2-agonist combination therapy

on airways remodelling We have demonstrated that the addition of a long-acting beta 2 agonist to inhaled low-dose corticosteroid is as effective an anti-inflammatory as higher dose corticosteroid. We are currently investigating the effects of combination therapy on the remodelling features of asthma [Wallin 2003, Jarjour 2006]. This follows on from previous work comparing the anti-inflammatory effects of single therapy with corticosteroids and long-acting beta 2 agonists [Wallin 1999 & 2002; Wilson 2001].

Research group

Clinical and Experimental Sciences

Affiliate research group

Respiratory and allergy Research group

Postgraduate Supervision
Dr Wilson has co-supervised 8 PhD students to completion, 3 DM students and 3 MSc students.

Faculty of Medicine

Head of the Histochemistry Research Unit
Chair of the BM Research Project Module Leaders group
Member of the year 3 Assessment Group
Member of the year 3 Steering Committee
Member of the Faculty Undergraduate Programmes Committee
Chair of the Faculty of Medicine Ethics Committee

National and International Responsibilities

Referee for several international journals:

1. European Respiratory Journal.
2. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology.
3. Clinical and Experimental Allergy.
4. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
5. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
6. Respiratory Medicine
7. Thorax
8. Journal of Pathology

Grant reviewer for the Wellcome Trust
Coordinating member (Bronchoscopy group) of the IMI funded pan-European UBIOPRED study

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Book Chapter




BM5 year 3 – Dr Wilson is the lead for the BM Research Project module. This is a 16 week, 22.5 ECT, compulsory module at the beginning of year 3 and gives medical students the opportunity to undertake a research orientated project and develop an understanding of the research process.

Additionally in year 3, Susan leads with the HRU team a Student Selected Unit  (SSU) in year 3 on ‘Histology in Practice’. This gives student the opportunity to undertake some practical histology in their chosen tissue of interest,

BM5 year 1 Foundations of Medicine – Dr Wilson facilitates in the histology workshops in semester 1.

Postgraduate Induction Programme – delivers lectures and practical training

GMA Immunohistochemistry course - this is a one week practical course with supporting lectures. This course is attended by internal and external national and international participants. Dr Wilson developed this course and now coordinates it, and delivers a large proportion of the lectures.

Dr Susan Wilson
Histochemistry Research Unit, Sir Henry Wellcome Laboratories, Mailpoint 894, Level B, South Block, Southampton General Hospital Tremona Road Southampton SO16 6YD Tel: 023 8120 6316 Fax: 023 8120 5016

Room Number : SGH/LB88/MP894

Facsimile: (023) 8120 5016

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