Prof Jonathan Seckl

Professor Jonathan Seckl is currently Senior Vice Principal at the University of Edinburgh.

Jonathan Seckl is an academic endocrinologist (MBBS UCL, PhD London). His main research contribution has been in elucidating the biology and importance of glucocorticoid (stress) hormones during foetal life in ‘programming’ the risk of later disease, notably isolating and proposing the key role of the glucocorticoid ‘barrier’ enzyme 11ß-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 in placenta. He provided an ‘epigenetic’ explanation of how early life events can hardwire the body and brain for life. His group’s work on liquorice in pregnancy impacted on public health policy in Scandinavia.

Seckl and colleagues, Professor Brian Walker and Professor Scott Webster, discovered that a hitherto obscure enzyme, 11ß-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11ß-HSD1), unexpectedly functions to regenerate active glucocorticoids in brain and the periphery, amplifying intracellular action. The group discovered increased expression of 11β-HSD1 in brain with ageing and showed this causes cognitive impairments with age. Analogously, they found increased 11β-HSD1 expression in adipose tissue with obesity and showed this produces metabolic syndrome. Seckl and colleagues proposed that inhibition/deletion of 11β-HSD1 may be of utility in metabolic syndrome and age-related cognitive impairments, a concept they established in preclinical and experimental human studies and now in successful phase II trials.

In Edinburgh, Seckl set up and led the interdisciplinary Molecular Medicine Centre, initiated and led the Centre for the Study of the Ageing Brain, was inaugural Head of the School of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, and Executive Dean as well as Director of Research for the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. He co-led the BioQuarter translational campus development at the new medical school Little France, raising substantial government, charitable and philanthropic funds. He initiated the “data-driven innovation” concept recently supported via Edinburgh’s City Region deal.

Extramurally, Seckl has chaired panels for MRC, Innovate UK and the Wellcome Trust.  He has been elected to the Councils of the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Society for Endocrinology. He was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list in 2019 for services to endocrinology and clinical science.