Researchers at UCD


Debra Higgins

Research Fellow

School Of Medicine & Medical Science
Conway Institute
Dublin 4

Tel: +353 1 7166795


 Dr. Debra Higgins is a HRB Translational Medicine Fellow. Debra graduated from UCD in 1995 with a first class joint honours degree in Botany and Molecular Genetics and in 2001 completed her PhD in Prof Matthew Harmey's laboratory studying differential gene expression techniques. Debra was one of the original twelve Conway Post-doctoral Fellows to be recruited and studied molecular mechanisms of kidney disease with Profs Hugh Brady, Catherine Godson, William Watson and John Fitzpatrick, while based at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital prior to the opening of the Conway Institute. She was awarded the first Conway Post-doctoral Fellows prize for Best Oral Presentation at the Conway Festival of Research which was postponed until December 2001 due to the events of 911. 

 In 2002, Debra moved to University of Pennsylvania to work with Dr. Volker Haase  to study the role of hypoxia and HIF in the progression of kidney disease. During her time in the US, she was awarded a National Kidney Foundation and an American Heart Association post-doctoral fellowship.  In 2009, Debra returned as a Research Fellow to the Diabetes Research Centre based in the Conway Institute to further her research into kidney injury, she has been lead investigator on a number of industry sponsored projects by Boehringer Ingelheim and Roche.

 Debra has 10 publications in journals such as the prestigious Journal of Clinical Investigation, Molecular and Cellular Biology, FASEB Journal and the American Journal of Physiology. Her HRB Translational Fellowship is to investigate the potential of hypoxia-responsive proteins as diagnostic biomarkers for early detection of renal disease and as therapeutic targets for treatment of kidney injury.


Honours and Awards

Year: 2010.
Title: IEPG Best Presentation Award
Year: 2007.
Title: Keystone Symposium Scholarship
Year: 2007.
Title: ASN Outstanding Scientific Abstract - Oral Presentation
Year: 2002.
Title: INS Best Presentation Award
Year: 2001.
Title: Conway Research Fellows Best Presentation Award
Year: 1998.
Title: Best Speaker Award
Year: 1996.
Title: Lord Edward Fitzgerald Scholarship


Association: International Society of Nephrology, Function/Role: Member
Association: European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes, Function/Role: Member
Association: The Adult Stem Cell Foundation of Ireland, Function/Role: Board of Directors


Year 2001 Institution: University College Dublin
Qualification: PhD Subject:
Year 1995 Institution: University College Dublin
Qualification: BSc Subject: Botany and Molecular Biology


Client: Boehringer Ingelheim
Client: Roche



Peer Reviewed Journals

Borgeson E, Mc Gillicuddy FC, Harford KA, Corrigan N, Higgins DF, Maderna P, Roch HM, Godson C (2012) 'Lipoxin A4 attenuates adipose inflammation'. FASEB Journal, . [Details]
Borgeson, E,Docherty, NG,Murphy, M,Rodgers, K,Ryan, A,O'Sullivan, TP,Guiry, PJ,Goldschmeding, R,Higgins, DF,Godson, C; (2011) 'Lipoxin A(4) and benzo-lipoxin A(4) attenuate experimental renal fibrosis'. FASEB Journal, 25 :2967-2979. [DOI] [Details]
Kimura K, Iwano M, Higgins DF, Yamaguchi Y, Nakatani K, Harada K, Kubo A, Akai Y, Rankin EB, Neilson EG, Haase VH, Saito Y (2008) 'Stable expression of HIF-1{alpha} in tubular epithelial cell promotes interstitial fibrosis'. American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology, 295 (4):F1023-F1029. [Details]
Higgins DF, Kimura K, Iwano M, Haase VH (2008) 'Hypoxia-inducible factor signaling in the development of tissue fibrosis'. Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.), 7 (9):1128-1132. [Details]
Higgins DF, Kimura K, Bernhardt WM, Shrimanker N, Akai Y, Hohenstein B, Saito Y, Johnson RS, Kretzler M, Cohen CD, Eckardt KU, Iwano M, Haase VH (2007) 'Hypoxia promotes fibrogenesis in vivo via HIF-1 stimulation of epithelial to mesenchymal transition'. The Journal of clinical investigation, 117 (12):3810-3820. [Details]
Rankin EB, Higgins DF, Walisser JA, Johnson RS, Bradfield CA, Haase VH (2005) 'Inactivation of the Arylhydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (Arnt) suppresses VHL associated vascular tumors in mice'. Molecular and Cellular Biology, 25 (8):3163-3172. [Details]
Watson RW, Power RE, Doyle BT, Higgins D, Brady HR, Fitzpatrick JM, ; (2004) 'Mechanical deformation induced apoptosis in human proximal renal tubular epithelial cells is caspase dependent'. The Journal of urology, 171 (1):457-461. [DOI] [Details]
Higgins DF, Biju MP, Akai Y, Wutz A, Johnson RS, Haase VH (2004) 'Hypoxic induction of Ctgf is directly mediated by Hif-1'. American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology, 287 (6):F1223-F1232. [Details]
Brady HR, Kieran NE, Doran PP, Connolly SB, Greenan MC, Higgins DF, Leonard M, Godson C, Taylor CT, Henger A, Kretzler M, Burne MJ, Rabb H, ; (2003) 'Modification of the transcriptomic response to renal ischemia/reperfusion injury by lipoxin analog'. Kidney International, 64 (2):480-492. [DOI] [Details]
Higgins, DF,Lappin, DWP,Kieran, NE,Anders, HJ,Watson, RWG,Strutz, F,Schlondorff, D,Haase, VH,Fitzpatrick, JM,Godson, C,Brady, HR; (2003) 'DNA oligonucleotide microarray technology identifies fisp-12 among other potential fibrogenic genes following murine unilateral ureteral obstruction (UUO): Modulation during epithelial-mesenchymal transition'. Kidney International, 64 :2079-2091. [Details]


Research Interests

Diabetic nephropathy (DN) affects approximately 40% of diabetic patients and is a progressive disease resulting in scarring and fibrosis of the kidney which inhibits kidney function. There is no cure for DN, current treatment therapies are aimed at slowing disease progression to end stage renal disease which requires renal replacement therapies such as dialysis or kidney transplantation.

Treating kidney disease patients in Ireland consumes approximately 10% of the total Irish health care budget. Diabetes is a global health problem with approximately 250 million suffers worldwide and this number is estimated to increase more than 50%  over the next ten years, highlighting an urgent need to identify new techniques for early identification of at risk patients and to discover and develop new treatment therapies to halt and regress kidney disease. Towards this end, my research has focussed intensively on the molecular processes which are altered in diseased kidneys compared with healthy kidneys.

I have identified many key molecules which control development of renal disease including connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) and lysyl oxidase (LOX) proteins and have investigated the role of these factors in regulating pro-fibrotic processes such as epithelial injury, extracellular matrix accumulation, cellular adhesion, migration and proliferation.

In addition, my studies have identified hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen supply, as a critical micro-environment which controls both pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrotic processes which are fundamental to disease progression in DN. Hypoxia, via activation of hypoxia inducible transcription factors (HIF), regulates progression of kidney disease and I am currently examining how these pathways may be exploited in an effort to develop novel diagnostic and treatment strategies for DN.

Research Projects

Sponsor : Health Research Board (HRB)
Title : LOX proteins as predictors of renal disease
Start Date / End Date : 01-DEC-11 / 30-NOV-15


Internal Collaborators

Prof. Catherine Godson
Prof. Finian Martin
Prof. Cormac Taylor
Dr. John Crean
Dr. Eileen Nolan

External Collaborators

Dr. Yvonne O'Meara, Mater Misericordiae Hospital
Dr. Denise Sadlier, Mater Misericordiae Hospital
Dr. John Holian, St. Vincent University Hospital
Prof. Cormac Kilty, Argutus Medical
Prof. Matthew Griffin, REMEDI, NUIG
Prof. Peter Conlon, Beaumont Hospital
Prof. Elaine Kay, Beaumont Hospital
Prof. Amato Giaccia, Stanford University, CA
Prof. Barbara Murphy, Mount Sinai, NY
Prof. Volker Haase, Vanderbilt, TN
Prof. Kai-Ewe Eckardt, Erlangen University
Prof. Masa Iwano