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We are pleased to announce that Professor Alison Simmons has been appointed as the new Director of the MRC Human Immunology Unit.

Alison Simmons headshot

Professor Alison Simmons FMedSci will start as Director of the Medical Research Council Human Immunology Unit (MRC HIU) from the 18th of January 2021.

The MRC HIU aims to further our understanding of how the immune system functions to develop better treatment strategies against infectious diseases, cancer, allergy and autoimmune diseases. The Unit’s research spans basic to translational immunology focussed on the development of experimental medicine programmes.

Driving Innovation

Professor Simmons said: “I am delighted to be appointed as Director of the MRC Human Immunology Unit. The MRC HIU has a long and auspicious history of fundamental immune breakthroughs, pioneering the field of human immunology and extending discovery across a wide range of human immune and infectious diseases.

Recently, state of the art technological advances have led to description of immune pathogenesis in human tissues in unprecedented depth. This opens whole new possibilities to harness the immune system for health and in the HIU we hope to bridge that gap over the coming years. Our unique grouping of clinical, basic science and computational expertise will enable us to tackle these problems to drive innovation.”

About Professor Simmons

Training as a physician in London, Cambridge and Oxford, Professor Simmons specialised in gastroenterology. She undertook a DPhil and Clinician Scientist award with Professor Sir Andrew Michael FRS, investigating mechanisms of HIV pathogenicity. She has worked on innate immunity discovering how Crohn’s susceptibility genes contribute to inflammation, defined mechanisms of barrier breakdown in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and how diverse gut cells work together to maintain health.

Professor Simmons is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and an Honorary Consultant Gastroenterologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Eminent clinician scientist

MRC Executive Chair, Professor Fiona Watt, said: “I am very pleased that Alison Simmons has been appointed director of the MRC Human Immunology Unit. She is an eminent clinician scientist and her work on intestinal immunity is world-leading. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted - as never before - the importance of understanding the human immune system, and Alison is well placed to lead the Unit to achieve great things in the coming years.”

Professor Hugh Watkins, Head of the Radcliffe Department of Medicine said: “I am delighted to welcome Alison to the position of MRC HIU Director and am excited about her vision for the Unit. I think we are extremely fortunate to have her in this role, and I am confident that her own programme, and the Unit as a whole, will continue to flourish. I look forward to working with Alison.”

Based in the MRC HIU since 2007, a part of the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (MRC WIMM), the Simmons group investigates how the immune system functions in the intestine in health, infections and inflammation. While at the MRC WIMM, Professor Simmons has also helped co-establish the WIMM Single-Cell Genomics Centre, MRC Centre for Computational Biology and Therapy Acceleration Laboratory over 2015-2019, which has been the driving force in application of single-cell genomics to human hematological and immunological diseases.

A very warm welcome to Professor Simmons.