Professor Colin Watts MBBS, PhD, FRCS(SN)

Professor Colin Watts

Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
Professor of Neurosurgery, Chair Birmingham Brain Cancer Program, 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 Program 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 Program 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. 


  • TBTC Quest for Cures: 01/09/2017 – 31/08/2021 WINDOW Consortium for glioblastoma: Targeting Inter- and Intra-Tumour Heterogeneity
  • TBTC Grant 495057: Overcoming the blood brain barrier: Supramolecular hydrogels for combination drug delivery 01/08/2017 – 31/07/2018
  • CRUK/CCC Pump-priming award with Dr Kristian Franze; The biomechanics of glioblastoma
  • CRUK/CCC Pump-priming award with Dr Rafael Carazo Salas; Investigating the morphological & proliferative heterogeneity of human glioblastoma by temporal microscopy-based phenotyping 2016-2017
  • CRUK BIDD project award C9221/A16700 Improving the intraoperative diagnosis of high-grade glioma using a fluorescence biomarker 2014-2017
  • NIHR Research Capability Funding: Characterising residual disease in human glioblastoma 2013-2014
  • Patient-specific cellular models for individualized drug development in the treatment of glioblastoma; Isaac Newton Trust 2013-2014
  • Molecular Genetic Analysis of the Tumour Margin in GBM; Isaac Newton Trust 2013-2015
  • Characterising Residual Disease In Human Glioblastoma Using A Novel Intra-Operative Fluorescence-Guided Sampling Technique The Brain Tumour Charity ref 10/136 2013-2016
  • GALA-5 TRIAL: An Evaluation of the Tolerability and Feasibility of combining 5-Amino-Levulinic Acid (5-ALA) with Carmustine Wafers (Gliadel) in the Surgical Management of Primary Glioblastoma. CRUK C9221/A11869 2011-2013
  • European Commission Marie-Curie Fellowship (Dr S Piccirillo) Molecular and Cellular Heterogeneity in Human glioblastoma FP7-PEOPLE-2010-IEF 2010-2013
  • Can the pattern of NG2 expression be used to predict or distinguish the clinical pattern of disease in patients with Glioblastoma? Evelyn Trust 2011-2013
  • Development of High Throughput Screening to Identify Diagnostic and Therapeutic Markers for Glioblastoma and Tumour Initiating Cells Genzyme 2010-2012
  • Characterising Glioma Stem Cells ACT 2009-10
  • Stem cells in the injured brain MRC G108/507 2003-2008
  • Fate mapping adult stem cells MRC stem cell initiative grant 67437 (with Prof J Fawcett) 2004-2007 

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


  1. Sage, W. Guilfoyle M, Luney C, Young A, Sinha R, Sgubin D, McAbee JH, Ma R, Jefferies S, Jena R, Harris F, Allinson K, Matys T, Qian W, Santarius T, Price S, Watts C. Local alkylating chemotherapy applied immediately after 5-ALA guided resection of glioblastoma does not provide additional benefit. J Neurooncol, doi:10.1007/s11060-017-2649-8 (2017)
  2. Weller M, van den Bent M, Tonn JC, Stupp R, Preusser M, Cohen-Jonathan-Moyal E, Henriksson R, Rhun EL, Balana C, Chinot O, Bendszus M, Reijneveld JC, Dhermain F, French P, Marosi C, Watts C, Oberg I, Pilkington G, Baumert BG, Taphoorn MJB, Hegi M, Westphal M, Reifenberger G, Soffietti R, Wick W, 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.
  3. Sinha R, Sage W, Watts C. The evolving clinical management of cerebral metastases. Eur J Surg Oncol 2017;43(7):1173-85.
  4. Nourallah B, Digpal R, Jena R, Watts C. Irradiating the Subventricular Zone in Glioblastoma Patients: Is there a Case for a Clinical Trial? Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 2017;29(1):26-33.
  5. Le Rhun E, Weller M, Brandsma D, Van den Bent M, de Azambuja E, Henriksson R, Boulanger T, Peters S, Watts C, Wick W, Wesseling P, Ruda R, Preusser M, Board EE, Committee EG. EANO-ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of patients with leptomeningeal metastasis from solid tumours. Ann Oncol 2017;28(suppl_4):iv84-iv99.
  6. Watts C, Sanai N. Surgical approaches for the gliomas. Handb Clin Neurol 2016;134:51-69.
  7. Furtner J, Schopf V, Seystahl K, Le Rhun E, Ruda R, Roelcke U, Koeppen S, Berghoff AS, Marosi C, Clement P, Faedi M, Watts C, Wick W, Soffietti R, Weller M, Preusser M. Kinetics of tumor size and peritumoral brain edema before, during, and after systemic therapy in recurrent WHO grade II or III meningioma. Neuro Oncol 2016;18(3):401-7.
  8. Eskilsson E, Rosland GV, Talasila KM, Knappskog S, Keunen O, Sottoriva A, Foerster S, Solecki G, Taxt T, Jirik R, Fritah S, Harter PN, Valk K, Al Hossain J, Joseph JV, Jahedi R, Saed HS, Piccirillo SG, Spiteri I, Euskirchen P, Graziani G, Daubon T, Lund-Johansen M, Enger PO, Winkler F, Ritter CA, Niclou SP, Watts C, Bjerkvig R, Miletic H. EGFRvIII mutations can emerge as late and heterogenous events in glioblastoma development and promote angiogenesis through Src activation. Neuro Oncol 2016.
  1. Piccirillo SG, Spiteri I, Sottoriva A, Touloumis A, Ber S, Price SJ, Heywood R, Francis NJ, Howarth KD, Collins VP, Venkitaraman AR, Curtis C, Marioni JC, Tavare S, Watts C. Contributions to drug resistance in glioblastoma derived from malignant cells in the sub-ependymal zone. Cancer Res 2015;75(1):194-202.
  2. Piccirillo SG, Colman S, Potter NE, van Delft FW, Lillis S, Carnicer MJ, Kearney L, Watts C*, Greaves M*. Genetic and functional diversity of propagating cells in glioblastoma. Stem cell reports 2015;4(1):7-15 *Joint senior authors
  3. Carruthers R, Ahmed SU, Strathdee K, Gomez-Roman N, Amoah-Buahin E, Watts C, Chalmers AJ. Abrogation of radioresistance in glioblastoma stem-like cells by inhibition of ATM kinase. Mol Oncol 2014.
  4. Ajaz M, Jefferies S, Brazil L, Watts C, Chalmers A. Current and investigational drug strategies for glioblastoma. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 2014;26(7):419-30.
  5. Watts C, Price SJ, Santarius T. Current concepts in the surgical management of glioma patients. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 2014;26(7):385-94.
  6. Setua S, Ouberai M, Piccirillo SG, Watts C, Welland M. Cisplatin-tethered gold nanospheres for multimodal chemo-radiotherapy of glioblastoma. Nanoscale 2014;6(18):10865-73.
  7. Watts C, Dunn L, Ashkan K, Jenkinson M, Smith P. Establishing the efficacy of Gliadel wafers: progress towards a Phase III trial. Acta neurochirurgica 2013;155(1):61-2.
  8. Stricker SH, Feber A, Engstrom PG, Caren H, Kurian KM, Takashima Y, Watts C, Way M, Dirks P, Bertone P, Smith A, Beck S, Pollard SM. Widespread resetting of DNA methylation in glioblastoma-initiating cells suppresses malignant cellular behavior in a lineage-dependent manner. Genes & development 2013;27(6):654-69.
  9. Sottoriva A, Spiteri I, Piccirillo SG, Touloumis A, Collins VP, Marioni JC, Curtis C, 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
  10. Jefferies SJ, Harris FP, Price SJ, Collins VP, Watts C. High grade glioma--the arrival of the molecular diagnostic era for patients over the age of 65 years in the UK. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 2013;25(7):391-3.
  11. Watts C. Umbilical cord stem cells: the hidden swan in a family of ugly ducklings. Acta neurochirurgica 2012;154(9):1727.
  12. Piccirillo SG, Dietz S, Madhu B, Griffiths J, Price SJ, Collins VP, Watts C. Fluorescence-guided surgical sampling of glioblastoma identifies phenotypically distinct tumour-initiating cell populations in the tumour mass and margin. British journal of cancer 2012;107(3):462-8.
  13. Heywood RM, Marcus HJ, Ryan DJ, Piccirillo SG, Al-Mayhani TM, Watts C. A review of the role of stem cells in the development and treatment of glioma. Acta neurochirurgica 2012;154(6):951-69; discussion 69.
  14. Appel EA, Rowland MJ, Loh XJ, Heywood RM, Watts C, Scherman OA. Enhanced stability and activity of temozolomide in primary glioblastoma multiforme cells with cucurbit[n]uril. Chem Commun (Camb) 2012;48(79):9843-5.
  15. Kenney-Herbert EM, Ball SL, Al-Mayhani TM, Watts C. Glioblastoma cell lines derived under serum-free conditions can be used as an in vitro model system to evaluate therapeutic response. Cancer Lett 2011;305(1):50-7.
  16. Guilfoyle MR, Weerakkody RA, Oswal A, Oberg I, Jeffery C, Haynes K, Kullar PJ, Greenberg D, Jefferies SJ, Harris F, Price SJ, Thomson S, 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.

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