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Emeritus Professor in the Department of Biosciences+44 (0) 191 33 41331
Emeritus Professor in the Department of Physics
Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing+44 (0) 191 33 41331


This image shows an epithelial cell that has been stained with antibodies  to the small heat shock protein, HSP27.

Professor Roy Quinlan joined the University of Durham in 2001 and was one of those responsible for founding the Biophysical Sciences Institute, which was then established in 2007. He is a Biochemistry graduate and PhD from the University of Kent where he worked on microtubules with Professor Keith Gull FRS, before taking up an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship at the German Cancer Research Centre to work on Intermediate Filaments with Professor Werner Franke in 1981. He joined Dr Murray Stewart at the LMB Cambridge determining the coiled coil pitch of myosin LS2, but continued to investigate structural aspects of GFAP and lamins. In 1988, he was appointed as a lecturer to the Department of Biochemistry in Dundee. Here his interest in the cytoskeleton and particularly intermediate filaments in astrocytes, cardiomyocytes and the lens led to the discovery of the functionally important interaction of the small heat shock protein chaperones with intermediate filaments and its role in mediating the biomechanical properties of cells. In the lens, these proteins are key to its function as an optical element the eye. The strong correlation between structure and function in this tissue provides the platform for current research interests to model lens cell organization in 3 and 4 dimensions and integrating the cytoskeletal and chaperone functions into a scaled model of this tissue.

The eye lens is a tissue in which its cell structure and cell organisation is intimately linked to function. The lens epithelium is a single layer of cells covering the anterior portion of the lens and underlying the anterior lens capsule. It is the cells of the lens epithelium that cause complications after cataract surgery and it is also those that are damaged by ionising radiation and this damage then manifests itself as lens opacities and eventually cataract. The lens epithelial cells form the lens fibre cells by cell differentiation. This is restricted to those epithelial cells at the very equator of the lens. The lens grows, albeit slowly, throughout life. To ensure that there is a continual supply of lens epithelial cells to differentiate into fibre cells, a cell proliferation zone is adjacent to the lens equator. The geometrical order of the lens originates in the epithelium and is manifested in fibre cell differentiation. The differentiating lens fibre cells undergo massive (~1000X) elongation so that eventually the ends of these cells from opposing lens quadrants touch to form the lens sutures. This exemplifies the precise arrangement of the lens fibre cells required to produce a functional lens that is capable of refracting focused images onto the retina. The epithelial cells outside of the equatorial and proliferative zones have the potential to proliferate, but they appear quiescent. This is called the central zone. The epithelial cells retain the potential for proliferation. We are investigating how ionising radiation causes lens opacities and cataract. We predict that it is damage to the cells in the lens epithelium and disturbance to their patterns of cell proliferation and differentiation, but important questions remain. For instance: Are some cells more sensitive than others to (low dose) ionising radiation? Is there a threshold dose? How does radiation damage to the lens epithelium cause the posterior subcapsular cataract that is so typical of radiation damage to the lens? 

The mouse is an excellent animal model because of the wealth of genetic and molecular tools to dissect out the mechanistic detail of low dose radiation effects. The lens is very accessible and easy to dissect. My laboratory has developed both mounting techniques and lens explant culturing techniques that has allowed us to link cell position in the epithelium to metric data (length, cross-sectional area; proliferation and apoptotic status). We can therefore detect the earliest signs of ionising radiation damage to the lens epithelium through changes in cell proliferation, cell death or cell metrics. Real time imaging of the developing eye lens would also be helpful to populate our knowledge base in terms of cell positioning, division planes and other organelle dynamics within the developing lens, but this is more easily achieved using zebrafish. With colleagues (Professor John Girkin, Dr Robert Pal, Dr Boguslaw Obara, Dr Junjie Wu) in Durham University Biophysical Sciences Institute, we are using multidisciplinary approaches to reach this goal so that in future, mouse and zebrafish systems can complement each other. This has led also to important research collaborations with Dr Kislon Voitchovsky and Dr Margarita Staykova (Physics), Dr John Sanderson and Dr Jackie Mosely (Chemistry) on lens membranes, their lipids and associated proteins, so that we connect our studies on the mechanistic details of lens function and cataractogenesis with our modelling of the lens.

We are currently investigating Electronic Lab Notebooks to standardise protocols, communicate results with collaborators and favour SciNote for ease of use and accessibility (

Research interests

  • Aquaporin 0 structure and function
  • animal cell biology
  • cataract and amyloidosis
  • inherited human diseases caused by mutant cytoskeletal proteins, particularly cataract, cardiomyopathy and neuropathies
  • membrane domains and their association with protein chaperones and intermediate filaments
  • motor neurone disease
  • protein chaperones
  • the cytoskeleton
  • the eye lens and the ageing process

Esteem Indicators

  • 2016: Invited speaker at the the GRC on Intermediate Filaments:
  • 2016: Chair Elect for the 2020 GRC on Intermediate Filaments: Elected along with Jan Lammerding to Chair the 2020 Gordon Research Conference on Intermediate Filaments
  • 2015: Fight for Sight Trustee:
  • 2013: Appointment to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry: Apponitment by invitation only
  • 2011: Appointed Affiliate Faculty to Department of Biological Structure at the UNiversity of Washington, Seattle: After my sabbatical year in this Department and the collaboration initiated I was appointed to the faculty as an affiliate member. Professor John I. Clark is Departmental Chair
  • 2009: Section Editor for Experimental Eye Research: Section Editor for the leading international eye research journal, Experimental Eye Research


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