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Cell biologist whose work spans over 30 years receives RMS Scientific Achievement Award

David Stephens, Emeritus Professor of Cell Biology

7 February 2024

David Stephens, Emeritus Professor of Cell Biology in the School of Biochemistry, has been awarded the Royal Microscopical Society (RMS) Scientific Achievement Award for his work on cell biology.

As a cell biologist David uses advanced light microscopy and electron microscopy to study the secretory pathway that carries proteins to the cell surface membrane where they can be released.

His research has centred on understanding the molecular mechanisms of cell organisation and function, particularly using advanced microscopy methods to probe membrane and cytoskeleton dynamics.

David's work has included multidisciplinary approaches integrating chemistry, physics, and mathematics with biology, as well as close collaboration with clinical colleagues to understand how these normal cellular functions fail in disease.

Professor Nigel Savery, Head of the School of Biochemistry, said: "David has been a staunch advocate for cutting edge microscopy at Bristol throughout his career. We are delighted that his scientific achievements and many contributions to the Cell Biology community nationally and internationally have been recognised by this prestigious award."

In 2005 he made the key finding that membranes of the early secretory pathway can be linked to microtubules and motor proteins for subsequent organisation and movement to the Golgi apparatus. He has also made many contributions to the understanding of cilia biology, including work identifying the subunit composition and role of the dynein-2 motor protein complex in the formation and maintenance of primary cilia.

In his 2018 work, David provided an important insight into the process of procollagen trafficking, revealing a short-loop pathway from the ER to the Golgi, without the use of large carriers. Further work has defined roles for early secretory pathway proteins, including giantin and TANGO1, in the processing and secretion of procollagen. David continues to publish in these areas with some exciting new publications coming up in 2024. 

As well as leading a successful research group, David has published over 100 papers during his research career and been a collaborator on many research projects, as well as giving mentorship to support the cell biology community.

During his research career he has held funding from UKRI and The Wellcome Trust, with a significant amount dedicated to the provision of advanced microscopy platforms.  Microscopy has always underpinned David’s research and he was a member of the Royal Microscopical Society Life Sciences Section for several years, supporting meetings including the Microscience Microscopy Congress (mmc).

David has been an active member of the British Society for Cell Biology and the British Society for Matrix Biology and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology. He has also served as an editor with the Journal of Cell Science since 2015. David has also been a grant panel member in the UK and internationally, as well as serving on the Council of UKRI-BBSRC. 

Further information about the RMS Scientific Achievement Award is available at:

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