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  4. Dr Rebecca Leyland

Dr Rebecca Leyland BSc, PgCert LTHE, FHEA, PhD

Senior Lecturer in Immunology and Immunotherapy


Rebecca is a Senior Lecturer in Immunology and Immunotherapy at Sheffield Hallam University. She was nominated for the national British Society for Immunology Excellence in Teaching Award in 2019. She obtained a BSc in Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Sheffield and a PhD in Immunology and Molecular Pathology at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London. She carried out post doctoral research at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge and then was Lead Pharmacologist in the development of immunotherapy drugs in the pharmaceutical industry, before she moved to Sheffield Hallam University in 2017.


Rebecca received a 1st class BSc (hons) in Physiology and Pharmacology from the University of Sheffield and was awarded the Physiological Society prize. She then studied for a PhD at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London in the field of Molecular Immunology and Pathology and attended the ENII-MUGEN Immunology Summer School.

Following this, she undertook a post-doctoral scientist position in the Lymphocyte Signalling and Development department at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms associated with microRNA-155 in B-cell differentiation. She contributed to numerous high impact publications during this time, presented her work and chaired sessions at national conferences.

Rebecca then transitioned into industry in order to use her knowledge in a more translational setting. She was lead pharmacologist in the research and development of cancer immunotherapies, agents which aim to activate the body's own immune system to fight cancer. Rebecca was selected to present her research at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference in the USA, published a first author paper in Clinical Cancer Research Journal and later became an inventor on a patent. She also received multiple internal company wide awards including the Early Career Researcher award and Global Scientific Breakthrough of the Year award.

During her numerous research posts, Rebecca continued to carry out STEM related outreach which involved scientific engagement in primary and secondary schools and delivering guest lectures in the community and at universities. She was also responsible for the direct supervision of undergraduate, summer, masters and PhD students. Her role included laboratory teaching, writing research proposals and being a member of the review committee to ensure student progress.


Rebecca is part of the course team for the newly appointed degree apprenticeship program for BSc Healthcare Science, which focuses on both academic and work-based learning of scientific principles within a healthcare context. Building on her previous experience working in a translational and patient-focused field, she leads the 'Fundamentals of Healthcare Science' and the 'Scientific Basis of Healthcare Science' modules of this program.

Rebecca also teaches in the general areas of immunology and pathology on numerous undergraduate courses. Key modules include 'Immunology & Microbiology', with focus on the theory of innate and adaptive immunity and 'Essential Biosciences for Nursing Practice' which covers the key aspects of blood science and its application in a more medical context. Key practical sessions include 'Cellular Pathology' and 'Immunology' where she teaches the theory and application of fundamental laboratory techniques such as immunohistochemistry, histology and flow cytometry.

Rebecca also gives professional development lectures to undergraduate and masters students. These lectures aim to improve key skills such as organisation and time management and highlight how they are useful for future employment.


Since joining SHU, Rebecca has been selected to attend a national sandpit event in Oxford which was ran by Cancer Research UK and Arthritis Research UK. She has also been invited to present her work at international meetings. She has been successful in obtaining studentship grants and travel grants from the British Society for Immunology to support her students in their research projects and to disseminate research findings to the wider scientific community.

PhD and MSc students working in Rebecca’s group present their findings at internal and external conferences.

Molecular mechanisms of B-cell differentiation and antibody production

B-cells are an essential part of the humoral immune response and function mainly by differentiating into antibody secreting plasma cells after antigenic stimulation via their B-cell receptor. This differentiation is co-ordinated by a specific network of transcription factors and microRNAs. Rebecca's research aims to further explore this network in B-cell sub-populations.

The role of B-cells in cancer

In a number of cancers, such as breast, ovarian, lung and prostate, B-cells form a major proportion of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes. However, the specific role of B-cells is not well understood. Some studies have reported that B-cells may promote tumour progression, whilst others have shown that tumour infiltrating B-cells may correlate with a favourable prognosis and increased response to therapy. Rebecca's research aims to further explore the role of B-cells in cancer progression and identify potential therapeutic strategies for cancer treatment.

Mechanisms whereby cancer cells evade the immune system

The process whereby cancer cells are able to bypass being destroyed by our own body's immune system is known as Cancer Immuno-editing. Cancer immuno-editing takes place in three phases: elimination, equilibrium and escape. Rebecca's research interests involve identifying the mechanisms which contribute to these three processes of Cancer immuno-editing and further elucidating the immuno-inhibitory biomarkers which are expressed by tumour cells at different stages of disease.

These research areas and key immunological techniques such as flow cytometry are incorporated into the teaching that Rebecca delivers in lectures and also for research projects she supervises on a number of different courses, including the Integrated Masters (MSci) and non-integrated Masters (MSc) programs.


Journal articles

Harper, J., Burke, S., Travers, J., Rath, N., Leinster, A., Navarro, C., ... Carroll, D. (2021). Recombinant Newcastle disease virus immunotherapy drives oncolytic effects and durable systemic antitumor immunity. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

Hudson, K., Cross, N., Jordan-Mahy, N., & Leyland, R. (2020). The Extrinsic and Intrinsic Roles of PD-L1 and Its Receptor PD-1: Implications for Immunotherapy Treatment. Frontiers in Immunology, 11, 568931.

Arbore, G., Henley, T., Biggins, L., Andrews, S., Vigorito, E., Turner, M., & Leyland, R. (2019). MicroRNA-155 is essential for the optimal proliferation and survival of plasmablast B cells. Life Science Alliance, 2 (3), e201800244.

Sheppard, E.C., Morrish, R.B., Dillon, M.J., Leyland, R., & Chahwan, R. (2018). Epigenomic Modifications Mediating Antibody Maturation. Frontiers in immunology, 9, 355.

Leyland, R., Watkins, A., Mulgrew, K.A., Holoweckyj, N., Bamber, L., Tigue, N.J., ... Stewart, R. (2017). A Novel Murine GITR Ligand Fusion Protein Induces Antitumor Activity as a Monotherapy that Is Further Enhanced in Combination with an OX40 Agonist. Clinical Cancer Research, 23 (13), 3416-3427.

Mosely, S.I.S., Prime, J.E., Sainson, R.C.A., Koopmann, J.O., Wang, D.Y.Q., Greenawalt, D.M., ... Wilkinson, R.W. (2017). Rational selection of syngeneic preclinical tumor models for immunotherapeutic drug discovery. Cancer Immunology Research, 5 (1), 29-41.

Williams, G.S., Mistry, B., Guillard, S., Ulrichsen, J.C., Sandercock, A.M., Wang, J., ... Wilkinson, R.W. (2016). Phenotypic screening reveals TNFR2 as a promising target for cancer immunotherapy. Oncotarget, 7 (42), 68278-68291.

Nakagawa, R., Leyland, R., Meyer-Hermann, M., Lu, D., Turner, M., Arbore, G., ... Vigorito, E. (2016). MicroRNA-155 controls affinity-based selection by protecting c-MYC+ B cells from apoptosis. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 126 (1), 377-388.

Lu, D., Nakagawa, R., Lazzaro, S., Staudacher, P., Abreu-Goodger, C., Henley, T., ... Vigorito, E. (2014). The miR-155-PU.1 axis acts on Pax5 to enable efficient terminal B cell differentiation. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 211 (11), 2183-2198.

Vigorito, E., Kohlhaas, S., Lu, D., & Leyland, R. (2013). miR-155: An ancient regulator of the immune system. Immunological Reviews, 253 (1), 146-157.

Ghorpade, D.S., Leyland, R., Kurowska-Stolarska, M., Patil, S.A., & Balaji, K.N. (2012). MicroRNA-155 is required for Mycobacterium bovis BCG-mediated apoptosis of macrophages. Molecular and Cellular Biology, 32 (12), 2239-2253.

Holbrook, J.D., Gill, C.H., Zebda, N., Spencer, J.P., Leyland, R., Rance, K.H., ... Gunthorpe, M.J. (2009). Characterisation of 5-HT3C, 5-HT3D and 5-HT 3E receptor subunits: Evolution, distribution and function. Journal of Neurochemistry, 108 (2), 384-396.

Conference papers

Morrow, M., Leyland, R., Hair, J., Stewart, R., Tigue, N., Bamber, L., ... Wilkinson, R. (2017). MEDI1873, a GITR ligand fusion protein (GITRL FP), induces effector T-cell proliferation, modulates T-regulatory cell function and has the potential to combine with checkpoint inhibitors. Cancer Research, 77 (13 Sup), 4604.

Prime, J.E., Mosely, S., Koopmann, J.-.O., Wang, D.Y.Q., Greenawalt, D., Harper, J., ... Wilkinson, R.W. (2016). Abstract 4186: syngenomic fingerprint: the biomic characterization of the mouse syngeneic tumor models. Cancer Research, 76 (14 Sup), 4186.

Prime, J.E., Mosely, S., Koopmann, J.-.O., Wang, D.Y.Q., Greenawalt, D., Harper, J., ... Wilkinson, R.W. (2016). Abstract 4186: syngenomic fingerprint: the biomic characterization of the mouse syngeneic tumor models. Cancer Research, 76 (14 Sup), 4186.

Stewart, R.A., Tigue, N., Ireland, S., Hair, J., Bamber, L., Oberst, M., ... Wilkinson, R.W. (2016). MED11873: A novel hexameric GITRL fusion protein with potent agonsitic and immunomodulatory activities in preclinical systems (Abstract only). Cancer Research, 76 (14 Sup), 561.

Leyland, R., Watkins, A., Mulgrew, K.A., Bamber, L., Tigue, N.J., Dick, E., ... Stewart, R. (2016). A mouse GITRL fusion protein drives T-cell activation and antitumor activity in preclinical mouse models of cancer (Abstract only). Cancer Research, 76 (14 Sup), 4902.

Nakagawa, R., Leyland, R., Turner, M., & Vigorito, E. (2014). miR-155 Regulates Cell Cycle in the Germinal Centre. SCANDINAVIAN JOURNAL OF IMMUNOLOGY, 80 (3), 240-241.

Vigorito, E., Leyland, R., & Lu, D. (2012). mir-155 regulates B cell function. IMMUNOLOGY, 137, 159.


Stewart, R., Tigue, N., Young, L., Higazi, D., Bamber, L., Sridharan, S., ... Durham, N. (2017). Gitrl fusion proteins and uses thereof.


Leyland, R., & Foster, J. (2017). Pharma Industry - where innovation impacts lives. Express Pharma News Bureau:


Leyland, R. (2019). The role of microRNA-155 in B cell differentiation. Presented at: B Cell Winter Immunology School, Lohr Am Main, Germany, 2019

Leyland, R., Garcia-Diaz, A., Belyaev, N., & Potocnik, A. (2010). Lineage Relationship Analysis of Lymphoid Progenitor Subsets during Acute Stress Responses. Presented at: Inflammatory Diseases and Immune Response: Basic aspects, novel approaches and experimental models, Vienna, Austria


Hudson, K., Cross, N., Jordan-Mahy, N., & Leyland, R. (2020). Blockade of Programmed Death-Ligand 1 with Atezolizumab in Human Breast Cancer 3D Spheroid Colonies Induces Changes in Cell Viability. Presented at: EACR-AACR-ASPIC Conference: Tumour Microenvironment, Lisbon, Portugal, 2020

Hudson, K., Jordan-Mahy, N., Cross, N., & Leyland, R. (2019). Programmed death-ligand 1 expression in human cancer cell lines in two-dimensional and three-dimensional cell culture systems. Presented at: BACR: Tumour Microenvironment meeting, Nottingham, UK, 2019

Stokes, H., Cross, N., & Leyland, R. (2018). Characterisation of novel lung cancer cell lines for immuno-inhibitory markers. Presented at: BMRC/MERI Winter Poster Event 2018, Sheffield, 2018

Hudson, K., Cross, N., Jordan-mahy, N., & Leyland, R. (2018). Flow cytometric phenotyping of diverse human cancer cell lines for immunological biomarkers expression. Presented at: BMRC/MERI Winter Poster Event, Sheffield, 2018

Hudson, K., Cross, N., Jordan-mahy, N., & Leyland, R. (2018). Flow cytometric phenotyping of diverse human cancer cell lines for immunological biomarkers expression. Presented at: BMRC/MERI Winter Poster Event, Sheffield, 2018

Leyland, R., Arbore, G., Henley, T., Andrews, S., Turner, M., & Vigorito, E. (2018). miR-155 is essential for proliferation and survival of plasmablast B-cells. Presented at: European Congress for Immunology 2018, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2018

Leyland, R., Aberdein, N., Wright, R., & Button, M.L. (2018). Providing productive feedback to Higher Education students. Presented at: SHU Annual Learning and Teaching Conference, Sheffield, UK, 2018

Owens, K., Peake, N., Jordan-Mahy, N., & Leyland, R. (2018). Exploring the interactions of Interferon-gamma and polyphenols in colorectal cancer cells. Presented at: British Society for Immunology: Yorkshire Immunology Group Annual Symposium 2018, University of York, UK, 2018

Other activities

Rebecca is a member of the Athena SWAN Committee within the Bioscience department.

Outside of SHU, Rebecca is an active member of the British Society for Immunology.

Postgraduate supervision

Katie Hudson - Elucidating the intrinsic role of immuno-inhibitory biomarkers in human cancers (2018-2021)

David Pawson - The role of tolerogenic cells in allogeneic haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (part-time; Aug 2012 - Nov 2020)

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