Dame Frances Ashcroft
Professorial Fellow in Physiology

Profile

My first degree was in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University. I continued at Cambridge to complete a PhD in zoology, after which I switched to physiology, and did post-doctoral research at Leicester University and the University of California at Los Angeles. I then came to Oxford where I set up my own lab, studying how a rise in blood sugar stimulates the release of insulin from the beta-cells of the pancreas and in 1996, I was appointed as a Professor. I joined Trinity College in 1992 first as a Senior Research Fellow and then as the Tutor for Medicine. In 2001, I became a professorial Fellow. I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999 and awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Award (European Laureate) in 2012.

Teaching

My teaching is now confined to graduate students. I co-direct one the Wellcome Trust’s 4-year PhD programmes (OXION), details of which can be found here.

I also write science books for the general reader.

Research

Research in my lab aims to elucidate how a rise in the blood glucose concentration stimulates the release of insulin from the beta-cells of the pancreas and what goes wrong with that process in neonatal diabetes and type 3 diabetes. We have shown that a plasma membrane pore known as KATP channel plays a vitally important role in regulating insulin secretion. In work with Prof Andrew Hattersley (Exeter University) we found that mutations in KATP channel genes can cause neonatal diabetes, a rare genetic form of diabetes that develops soon after birth. Understanding how the KATP channel functions has enabled most patients with this disease to substitute oral drug therapy for insulin injections. Our current studies aim to understand how chronic hyperglycaemia (diabetes) produces dramatic changes in beta-cell structure and function and how these changes are reversed when bood glucose levels are normalised.

Selected Publications

  • Ashcroft, F.M. The Spark of Life (2012), Penguin.
  • Ashcroft, F.M. Life at the Extremes (2000),Harper Collins.
  • Brereton, M.F.; Iberla, M.; Shimomura, K.; Zhang, Q.; Adriaenssens, A.E.; Proks, P.; Spiliotis, I.I.; Dace, W.; Mattis, K.K.; Ramracheya, R.; Gribble, F.M.; Reimann, F.; Clark, A.; Rorsman, P.; Ashcroft F.M. Reversible changes in pancreatic islet structure and function produced by elevated blood glucose. Nature Communications in press (2104).
  • Proks, P.; de Wet, H.; Ashcroft, F.M. Molecular mechanism of sulphonylurea block of KATP channels carrying mutations that impair ATP inhibition and cause neonatal diabetes. Diabetes (2013), 62, 3909-3919.
  • Ashcroft, F.M.; Rorsman, P. Diabetes and the beta-cell: the last ten years. Cell (2012), 148, 1160-1171.

 

Listen to Professor Ashcroft talk about her ground-breaking work on diabetes
Listen to Professor Ashcroft talk about her ground-breaking work on diabetes
The Life Scientific - BBC Radio Interview - 15th May 2012
The Life Scientific - BBC Radio Interview - 15th May 2012