Professor Philip Ingham FRS

Professor Philip Ingham FRS FMedSci Hon FRCP

Director of the Living Systems Institute


I graduated in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge in 1977 and obtained my PhD from the University of Sussex in 1980. After postdocatoral research at the CNRS Laboratoire de Genetique Moleculaire des Eucaryotes in Strasbourg, France and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) Mill Hill Laboratories, London, I spent ten years as a Principal Investigator, first at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and then at  ICRF Laboratories in Oxford and London. In 1996 I was appointed Professor of Developmental Genetics at the University of Sheffield, where I established the MRC Centre for Developmental & Biomedical Genetics, of which I was the inaugural Director.  In 2006 after a Visiting Professorship at the National University of Singapore, I became a Principal Investigator at the Singapore A*STAR Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, becoming Deputy Director the following year. In 2014 I was appointed Toh Kian Chui Distinguished Professor and Vice Dean Research at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where I retain an appointment as Professor of Developmental Biology. I am a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO), a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. I was awarded the Genetics Society Medal in 2005 and the Waddington Medal by the British Society for Developmental Biology in 2014.

I have served on the advisory panels of a number of journals and international funding bodies including the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong University Grants Committee, the Wellcome Trust and the Human Frontiers of Science Programme (HFSP). I am  currently Head of the Developmental Biology Faculty for the online reviews journal Faculty of 1000 and President of the International Society of Developmental Biologists. I also serve on the External Advisory Committee of the Max-Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim, Germany, and the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Sars Centre for Molecular Marine Biology in Bergen, Norway.

Highlights of my career to date:

The major scientific highlights have been elucidating the Hedgehog signalling pathway in Drosophila and the discovery of the vertebrate Hedgehog genes. Although the name seems whimsical, Hedgehog signalling is one of the key processes that underlies the development of most animals, including ourselves. So unravelling how this fascinating pathway operates has had a big impact on our understanding not only of normal embryonic development but also on uncovering the molecular basis of various human congenital disorders and cancers. Other highlights include the establishment of the MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics at the University of Sheffield and helping to develop research strategy as inaugural Vice Dean for Research at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in Singapore.

What excites me most about joining the LSI?

Giving young and promising researchers the opportunity to pursue their passion and shape a new institute, where ideas can be generated and investigated without the constraints imposed by the boundaries of traditonal disciplines.  Working in an environment where biologists, physicists, chemists and mathematicians talk to each other and work together on a daily basis is truly invigourating and inspiring.

The research work I will be undertaking within the LSI:

My research has always aimed to understand complex biological processes by studing them in the context of the whole organism. My group uses a genetically tractable organism, the tropical fish Danio rerio (commonly known as the zebrafish), as a model in which to unravel the molecular and cellual basis of human development and disease. Zebrafish not only offer exceptional opportunities for in vivo imaging, genetic manipulation and high throughput drug screening, but also address the aims of the 3Rs – Reduction, Refinement, Replacement - in animal research.

One of my lab’s long-standing interests is in the Hedgehog (Hh) cell signalling pathway. Although much has been learned about this enigmatic pathway over the past 20 years, there is still more to find out: our studies will focus on the mechanisms underlying the response of cells to Hedgehog signals and on the evolutionary origins of this pathway.
Another interest that we will continue to pursue is the development of skeletal muscle. We analyse the way in which physiologically distinct muscle fibre-types are specified and how these grow and regenerate throughout the life course of the organism. These studies can give insights into the mechanistic basis of human myopathies as well as processes that may be exploited in regenerative medicine.

Something about me that you can’t google!

Whilst I was a student at Cambridge, I spent one summer holiday painting a stone farmhouse on the Island of Mull that belonged to the Shakesperian actor Paul Schofield. I knew of him only through his portrayal of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's “A Man for All Seasons” -  so joining him and his wife for afternoon tea each afternoon was an experience I shall never forget! He was a hugely charismatic yet kind and humble man.