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Samira Lakhal-Littleton

BSc (UCL); DPhil (Oxf)

Research Summary:

Samira Lakhal-Littleton is interested in the molecular pathways that govern physiological responses to altered oxygen and iron levels. Oxygen and iron homeostasis are intimately linked.  Systemically, iron availability controls haemoglobin synthesis, thereby influencing oxygen delivery to tissues. At the cellular level, many of the enzymes that carry out vital functions in energy production and cellular maintenance require both oxygen and iron for activity. This overlap between oxygen and iron homeostasis is reflected in the pathophysiology of human disease. For instance, chronic hypoxia and severe iron deficiency engender similar responses in the heart; an increase in cardiac muscle size (hypertrophy), which can lead to heart failure.

Given this link between oxygen and iron homeostasis, both at the systemic and cellular levels, it is not surprising that the molecular pathways that have evolved to enable cells to sense oxygen levels (eg Hypoxia Inducible Factors HIFs) also confer the ability to sense iron availability. The aim of Samira’s research is to dissect the molecular pathways, HIF-related or otherwise, that regulate oxygen and iron levels in the heart, and how they dictate cardiac responses to pathophysiological stresses, such as iron deficiency and hypoxia. Ultimately, by targeting such pathways, it may be possible to ameliorate or prevent such pathophysiologies, both in the heart and in other biological systems.


After completing a BSc in Human Genetics at University College London, Samira moved to Oxford University in 2004 to undertake a DPhil in Molecular Medicine. In 2007, she took up her first postdoctoral position at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford, working in the laboratory of Sir Peter Ratcliffe, whose lab first established the link between HIFs and Erythropoietin. At the time, Samira’s research explored the interplay between oxygen and iron signalling pathways at the cellular level. In 2013, Samira gained a BHF intermediate Research Fellowship that enabled her to set up an independent research programme at the department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Oxford. Her current research aims to dissect iron and oxygen homeostasis in the heart.