Professor Colin Watts MBBS, PhD, FRCS(SN)

Professor Colin Watts

Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
Professor of Neurosurgery, Chair Birmingham Brain Cancer Programme, University of Birmingham
Honorary Consultant Neurosurgeon, University Hospitals Birmingham

Contact details

Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
College of Medical and Dental Sciences
University of Birmingham
Birmingham B15 2TT

Professor Colin Watts leads the newly established Brain Cancer Programme at the University of Birmingham. His research aims to improve the treatment and survival of patients with glioma by understanding the molecular genetic heterogeneity of individual tumours and using that data to develop novel molecular and functional stratification suitable for application in clinical trials. His clinical practice specializes in neurosurgical oncology with a particular interest in intrinsic gliomas and cerebral metastases.

We need to bring patients and research together to develop new strategies that get the right treatments to the right patient at the right time and address the multiple challenges of brain tumours. We are developing the largest trial in brain cancer in the UK to develop better drugs and improve the quality of life for patients. Find out how to support our research through the Birmingham in Action campaign.


  • FRCS (Surg. Neurol.) 2002
  • PhD (Cantab) 1999
  • MB BS 1991
  • Bachelor of Medical Science 1990


Professor Colin Watts leads the newly established Brain Cancer Programme at the University of Birmingham. His research aims to improve the treatment and survival of patients with glioma by understanding the molecular genetic heterogeneity of individual tumours and using that data to develop novel molecular and functional stratification suitable for application in clinical trials. His clinical practice specializes in neurosurgical oncology with a particular interest in intrinsic gliomas and cerebral metastases.

Professor Watts qualified from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and trained in neurosurgery in Cambridge and London where he completed his specialist training in 2004. He was awarded his doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1999 and appointed as an MRC Clinician Scientist in 2004. He became a HEFCE Clinical Senior Lecturer in 2010 and was appointed Associate Professor in Neurosurgical Oncology, University of Cambridge, in 2016. He has published over 160 papers, articles, book chapters and reviews and serves on the editorial boards of Neuro-oncology and the European Journal of Surgical Oncology. He has received over £3.6M research funding as an academic consultant and was awarded the SNO translational research prize in 2013 for his work in evolutionary genomics of glioblastoma.  

As a practicing neurosurgeon Professor Watts has established a dedicated neurosurgical-oncology research clinic to support clinical trials and collaborative translational research. Ongoing clinical research uses fluorescence-guided techniques to optimize cytoreduction, develop surgical biomarkers of high-grade cancer, and enhance post-operative management of glioma patients through accelerated molecular stratification. His translational research interests are to understand the spatial and temporal evolution of tumour heterogeneity and the impact of sampling bias on our understanding of the clonal architecture and phylogeny of treatment-resistant disease. 


Birmingham Brain Cancer Programme (>£10M grant income)


TBTC Grant Patient Reported Core Outcomes in Brain Tumour Trials: the COBra study 01/04/2021 – 31.03.2023 £154,073

Minderoo Foundation BRAIN MATRIX Precision Medicine Accelerator 01/04/2021-31/03/2023 £450,000

EPSRC IRC Consortium Grant for Hard-to-Treat Cancers 01/10/2018 – 30/09/2024 £10M of which £470,000 to C Watts

Innovate UK award for The Tessa Jowell BRAIN MATRIX Platform £3,400,000

TBTC Grant 000580 The Tessa Jowell BRAIN MATRIX Platform Trial 01/03/2019 – 28/02/2024 £2,829,449

TBTC Quest for Cures: 01/09/2017 – 31/08/2022 WINDOW Consortium for glioblastoma: Targeting Inter- and Intra-Tumour Heterogeneity £1,513,528.52

TBTC Grant 495057: Overcoming the blood brain barrier: Supramolecular hydrogels for combination drug delivery 01/08/2017 – 31/07/2018 £100,000


CRUK, £1.3M (PI; Tennant), 02/17 – 01/2023. Pseudohypoxia-led identification of metabolic vulnerabilities in hypoxic tumours to improve patient outcomes

Birmingham Children’s Hospital Research Foundation, £51,000 (PI; Tennant). 12/17 – 11/18. Assessment of the role of Yes-associated protein (YAP) in paediatric high grade glioma (PI; Tennant)

MRC Confidence in Concept, £80,000 (PI; Tennant). 01/13 – 01/14. Validation of a novel means of stratifying patients with low grade glioma by survival


Oligodendroglioma challenge grant- Oligo Nation (collaborative research project; 125K$)


Artificial intelligence in brain tumour imaging: predicting treatment response – QEHB Charity, £113,473


C McConville (PI) and C, Watts, In Vivo Testing of Single and Multi-layered Drug Delivery Implants for Safety and Efficacy Using Glioblastoma Mouse Resection Model Xenotransplanted with Primary Human Glioblastoma Tissue, Medical Research Council £71,040

Birmingham Neuro-Trauma Programme (active grants in the last 4 years listed only)



•       EU H2020 Antimicrobial Integrated Methodologies for orthopaedic applications - ETN; EUR 3.9 million, Jan 2020-Dec 2025

•           NIHR HTA Pharmacological management of post-traumatic seizures; £2,005,000, Oct 2019-Sep 2026

•           NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre; £10,000,000, Lead applicant and Centre Director, August 2016-July 2021

•           MRC and NIHR HTA Clinical Randomisation of an Antifibrinolytic in Significant Head Injury Trial (CRASH-3); £3,294,000, June 2014-December 2019

•           NIHR Trauma MedTech; £1,100,000; Jan 2018-Dec 2022

•           EU2020 Brain injury and trauma monitoring using advanced photonics (ETN); €3,835,756, Jan 2016-Dec 2020

•           NIHR HTA A randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trial of a two-week course of dexamethasone for adult patients with a symptomatic Chronic Subdural Haematoma (Dex-CSDH trial) 1,206,959, 2014-February 2019

•           Welcome-NIHR (HIC) (Logan, Grover, Scott, Belli, Shah) Biomembranes for Trauma Care; £1,811,618, 2014-May 2020

•           NIHR HTA Randomised Evaluation of Surgery with Craniectomy for patients Undergoing Evacuation of Acute Subdural Haematoma (RESCUE-ASDH); £1,445,618, Co-I, July 2014-Jun 2020

•           EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Physical Sciences for Health (Sci-Phy-4-Health); £6,200,000, October 2014-October 2018


•       Jon Moulton CRASH-4 trial: The effects of early TXA on death, disability and dementia in older adults with mild TBI, £717,728, 2020-2022

•           NIHR Senior Investigator £360,000, 2019-2023

•           Drake Foundation Investigating concussion in professional football; £180,000, CI, 2018-2021

•           SBRI Test for diagnosing TBI at point of impact from Mild (Concussion) to Moderate/Severe; £855,223, 2016-18

•           MRC DPFS Potential of P2X7 receptor antagonism to attenuate the adverse consequences of neurotrauma (PROTECT); £945,515, August 2017-July 2023

•           NIHR Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation Mechanism of Tranexamic Acid in Isolated Traumatic Brain Injury; £363,200, February 2016-January 2018

•           NIHR Healthcare Technology Cooperative on Trauma Management; £900,000, Co-I and Theme Lead, January 2013-December 2017

•           Small Business Research Initiative (Wright, Belli, Davies) Development of a Pupilloscope for the assessment of TBI (Phase II); £900,000, January 2015-December 2021


•           NIHR GHPSR Equitable access to quality trauma systems in Lower and Middle Income Countries. £99,977, March 2020 - March 2021

•           MRC CiC (UoB) Development of an antimicrobial coating for biomedical implants; £87,500, Lead Applicant, January 2017 – December 2017

•           MRC Confidence in Concept £87,500, September 2016-August2017  

•           BRIDGE Fund (University of Illinois-University of Birmingham) Biomarkers of Traumatic Brain Injury; £15,000, November 2015- June 2017

•           British Medical Association, Repetitive Concussion in Sport; £54,882, September 2013-September 2016

 OTHER GRANTS < £10k: total £115,297 (n=15)


Other activities

  • Co-chair WFNS Neuro-Oncology committee 2017 to date
  • Vice president British Neuro-Oncology Society (BNOS) 2017 to date
  • Founding Chair SBNS Tumour Section 2015 to date
  • Chair Neuro-Oncology Section EANS 2014 to date
  • Board Member European Association of NeuroOncology (EANO) 2014 to date
  • Director of Studies (Clinical) Peterhouse 2010 to date
  • Council Member British Neuro-Oncology Society (BNOS) 2008 to 2017
  • Chair International Rare Cancers Initiative for Brain 2013 to 2017
  • Neuro-Oncology Faculty WFNS 2012 to 2017
  • Chairman NCRI Clinical Trials Group, Brain Tumours 2011 to 2017
  • Chairman of Organising Committee BNOS National Meeting Cambridge 2011
  • Committee member NCRI Clinical Trials Group, Brain Tumours 2008 - 2011
  • Council Member British Neuro-Oncology Society (BNOS)  2008 to date
  • Chair NCRI technology sub-group, Brain Tumours  2009 - 2012


  • Rapid optofluidic detection of biomarkers for traumatic brain injury via surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy.Nat Biomed Eng. 2020 Jun;4(6):610-623.
  • Appropriation of GPIbα from platelet-derived extracellular vesicles supports monocyte recruitment in systemic inflammation. Haematologica, 2020, 105 (5):1248-1261               
  • Trial of Dexamethasone for Chronic Subdural Hematoma. N Engl J Med. 2020 Dec 31;383(27):2616-2627.
  • Understanding the neuroprotective effect of tranexamic acid: an exploratory analysis of the CRASH-3 randomised trial. Crit Care, 2020 Nov 11;24(1):560
  • Covert Speech Comprehension Predicts Recovery From Acute Unresponsive States. Ann Neurol, 2020 Dec 23.
  • Spectroscopic detection of traumatic brain injury severity and biochemistry from the retina. Biomed Opt Express,  2020 Oct 8;11(11):6249-6261
  • The Valsalva maneuver: an indispensable physiological tool to differentiate intra versus extracranial near-infrared signal. Biomed Opt Express. 2020 Mar 2;11(4):1712-1724.
  • Efficacy of Ronopterin (VAS203) in Patients with Moderate and Severe Traumatic Brain Injury (NOSTRA phase III trial). Trials 2020, 21 (1)
  • Care providers’ and patients’ attitudes toward using electronic-patient reported outcomes to support patients with traumatic brain injury: a qualitative study (PRiORiTy). Brain injury 2020
  • Effects of tranexamic acid on death, disability, vascular occlusive events and other morbidities in patients with acute traumatic brain injury (CRASH-3): a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet  2019, Oct
  • Case-mix, care pathways, and outcomes in patients with traumatic brain injury in CENTER-TBI: a European prospective, multicentre, longitudinal, cohort study. Lancet Neurology 2019 Oct 10; 923-934
  • Small Non-coding RNAs: New Class of Biomarkers and Potential Therapeutic Targets in Neurodegenerative Disease. Front Genet. 2019 Apr 26;10:364
  • Infections after a traumatic brain injury: The complex interplay between the immune and neurological systems. Brain Behav Immun. 2019 Jul;79:63-74
  • Optical pupillometry intraumatic brain injury: neurological pupil index and its relationship with intracranial pressure through significant event analysis. Brain Inj. 2019;33(8):1032-1038
  • Primum non nocere: a call for balance when reporting on CTE. Lancet Neurol. 2019 Mar;18(3):231- 233
  • Brain death and postmortem organ donation: report of a questionnaire from the CENTER-TBI study. Crit Care. 2018 Nov 16;22(1):306
  • Salivary MicroRNAs: Diagnostic Markers of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Contact-Sport. Front Mol Neurosci. 2018 Aug 20;11:290
  • MicroRNA Signature of Traumatic Brain Injury: From the Biomarker Discovery to the Point-of-Care. Front  Neurol. 2018 Jun 14;9:429
  • Cerebral Oxygenation in Traumatic Brain Injury: Can a Non-Invasive Frequency Domain NIRS Detect Changes in Brain Tissue Oxygen Tension? J Neurotrauma. 2019 Apr 1;36(7):1175-1183

Publications in specific cross cutting areas including

1) stem cell biology applied to cancer biology & therapy:

Al-Mayhani, … C. Watts (2019). "A non-hierarchical organization of tumorigenic NG2 cells in glioblastoma promoted by EGFR." Neuro Oncol 21(6): 719-729.

Piccirillo SG, … Watts C. Contributions to drug resistance in glioblastoma derived from malignant cells in the sub-ependymal zone. Cancer Res 2015;75(1):194-202.

Piccirillo SG, … Watts C*, Greaves M*. Genetic and functional diversity of propagating cells in glioblastoma. Stem cell reports 2015;4(1):7-15 *Joint senior authors

2) cancer evolution:

Sottoriva A, …. Watts C*, Tavare S*. Intratumor heterogeneity in human glioblastoma reflects cancer evolutionary dynamics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2013;110(10):4009-14. *Joint senior authors

Spiteri, I., …. C. Watts* and A. Sottoriva* (2019). "Evolutionary dynamics of residual disease in human glioblastoma." Ann Oncol 30(3): 456-463 *joint senior authors

Aldape K, et al. Glioma Through the Looking GLASS: Molecular Evolution of Diffuse Gliomas and the Glioma Longitudinal AnalySiS Consortium. Neuro Oncol. 2018.

Barthel, F. P., et al R. G. W. Verhaak and GLASS Consortium (2019). "Longitudinal molecular trajectories of diffuse glioma in adults." Nature 576 (7785) 112-120

3) service development and policy guidance:

Guilfoyle MR, …. Watts C. Implementation of neuro-oncology service reconfiguration in accordance with NICE guidance provides enhanced clinical care for patients with glioblastoma multiforme. British journal of cancer 2011;104(12):1810-5

Jenkinson, ….. C. Watts (2018). "Intraoperative imaging technology to maximise extent of resection for glioma." CochraneDatabase Syst Rev 1: CD012788

Weller M, et al European Association for Neuro-Oncology Task Force on G. European Association for Neuro-Oncology (EANO) guideline on the diagnosis and treatment of adult astrocytic and oligodendroglial gliomas. Lancet Oncol 2017;18(6):e315-e29

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