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Following appointment as Consultant Dermatologist at the Royal London Hospital in 1983 Professor Leigh established the Centre for Cutaneous Research at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London (BLSMD) which developed into the premier research centre in skin biology and disease in UK and arguably Europe. During this period she became Professor of Dermatology (1992), Professor of Cell and Molecular Medicine (1999), Research Dean (1997-2002), Joint Research Director (2002-5), Dean for e-learning (2005-6). She was appointed Head of College and Vice Principal of Dundee University in November 2006 and re?established a research laboratory in Dundee including the CR-UK Skin Tumour Laboratory. She was President of the Association of Physicians of UK and Ireland in 2010-11 and a council member of the Academy Medical Sciences 2009-12. She organised IID2013 in Edinburgh. She returned to full time research between Dundee, with programme grants from erc and CR-UK, and Lyon in Global Health with i-pri.. She serves on multiple grant giving bodies including the erc. She honoured with an OBE for services to medicine in 2006 and a CBE in 2012..She was awarded the Archibald Gray medal of the British Association Dermatologists in 2012. She is a Trustee of Debra UK. She is a co-PI on a Wellcome Trust Strategic award for Dermatology and Genetic Medicine with Irwin McLean (2012-17) and is the Director of the Clinical network of DGEM: BADGEM.
Her research has centred around all aspects of keratinocyte biology from studying basic epithelial differentiation into disease applications, particularly the molecular mechanisms of skin cancer, genetic disease and tissue engineering and she is recognised as an international leader in those fields. Her group have made major contributions to the understanding and treatment of human disease including:
- Identification of the absence of type VII collagen as causative in Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa (RDEB) 1985 and development of LH7.2 the widely used diagnostic monoclonal antibody (MAb) for RDEB 1985
- Development of multiple MAb to keratins, basement membrane proteins, stem cell markers and trichocyte markers for cancer diagnosis and characterisation of genetic disease (now widely used in pathological diagnosis through multiple commercial sources e.g. LP34, LL001)1983-90
- Identification of mutations in keratins, plectin and desmosomal proteins in > 16 hereditary skin disease and development of mutation bearing keratinocyte lines 1992-2002
- Development of skin tissue engineering for treatment of burns, ulcers, oral and genital mucosa and provision of laboratory and clinical service in London
- Identification of connexin mutations as major cause of hereditary sensorineural deafness as well as skin disease in London (1997?2006)
- Identification HPV as a major co factor in non melanoma skin cancer and identification of novel mechanisms of action (ongoing)
- Characterisation of molecular mechanisms in non-melanoma skin cancer in immunocompetent, immunosuppressed and RDEB patients including PTPRD potential targets for treatment (CRT)
Throughout her career she has been a role model and mentor, particularly for women academics and academic dermatologist Prof Leigh is therefore frequently consulted for career advice She is involved with allocation of Clinical Training Fellowships through the MRC College and Experts, the, the Rene Touraine and Ceries Science Advisory Boards. She is currently President of the Rene Touraine Foundation and faculty of “Mentoring young researchers” of the ESDR.