Professor Colin Watts

Current position

Professor of Neurosurgery
Chair Birmingham Brain Cancer Program
University of Birmingham

Honorary Consultant Neurosurgeon
University Hospitals Birmingham


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

Short biography

 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.

Prof 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 Lecture 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 Prof 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.

Research & clinical interests 

  • 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


  • 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 date

Selected publications

  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.

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