Professor Valerie O'Donnell

Professor Valerie O'Donnell

Co-Director of Systems Immunity Research Institute

School of Medicine

+44 (0)29 2068 7313
Tenovus Institute


Our research uses mass spectrometry to discover and characterise new lipids (fats) made by circulating vascular cells that regulate immune defence and blood clotting.

Recently we showed that human blood platelets generate a large number of oxidized phospholipids several of which help clotting factors in plasma work more effectively.  We also uncovered a new role for phospholipases in providing energy to the cell and how lipids in different people respond individually to aspirin (

In 2016, the Wellcome Trust funded a £1.3M 5 yr initiative led by our group jointly with Babraham Institute, Cambridge, and University of California San Diego to fund continuation and further development of LIPID MAPS, the global online database and resource for lipid research (

Our current research is focused on understanding the role of new lipids in vascular inflammation including cardiovascular disease, dementia and wound healing.  Some lipids we discovered are being developed as the basis of new treatments for bleeding excess.

Research in our group is funded by grants from the European Research Council, Wellcome Trust, British Heart Foundation and Medical Research Council.


1993 PhD Bristol University, Biochemistry

1990 BSc, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Human Nutrition and Dietetics

Honours and awards

Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Awardee (2017)

ERC Advanced Investigator (2015-)

Honorary Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of the Republic, Montevideo, since 2008.

Marie Curie Excellence Award (EU), Brussels, March 2008

Wellcome Trust University Award, Cardiff University, 2002-2007

Iron Bolt Award, Gordon Research Conference on Oxygen Radicals, 2004

Wellcome Trust RCD Fellow, Cardiff University, 1999-2002

Parker B Francis Pulmonary Fellow, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1997-1999

European Union Marie Curie Fellow, University of Berne, Switzerland, 1995-1996

Professional memberships

Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales, April 2015-

Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, June 2013-

University committees

-Member, Population and Systems Medicine Board, Medical Research Council, 2016-2018

-Deputy Chair Medical Research Council Non-Clinical Training and Career Development Panel Oct 2014-Mar 2016.

-Wellcome Trust, Member of Biomedical Resources Grant Committee (April 2015-)

-Wellcome Trust Peer Review College, Sept 2012-2015

-NISCHR Health Grants Panel, Welsh Assembly Government, July 2012 – July 2014

-Medical Research Council Non-Clinical Training and Career Development Panel Apr 2012-Mar 2014.

We work with haematologists (Prof Peter Collins, Cardiff University) and Cardiologists (Dr Richard Anderson, UHW) on joint clinical projects studing mechanisms of blood clotting in human health and disease. Our interdisciplinary research also involves computer scientists and chemists, based locally (Dr Stuart Allen, School of Computing and Informatics) and abroad (University of Colorado, Denver, Vanderbilt University, Nashville and Bristol University)

Our early stage translational studies aim to develop new treatments for inflammation and excess bleeding, and to develop a better understanding of how circulating cells respond to common cardiovascular therapies in relation to circulating and signaling lipids.

RESEARCH THEME 1. Esterified Eicosanoids in innate immunity:

We discovered several families of new lipids that are generated on acute activation by innate immune cells. They display diverse bioactivies including promoting coagulation and regulating leukocyte anti-bacterial responses. Our hypothesis is that they play a physiological role in wounding responses, but their dysregulation could contribute to venous thrombosis and atherosclerosis. Current studies led by the group are focused on understanding their function in health and disease:

1. Wellcome Trust Programme (£1.2M, 2011-2016): Aims to understand the cell biology and biophysics of the lipids and to determine their role in venous thrombosis in a clinical study.

2. British Heart Foundation Programme (£820K, 2012-2017): Aims to determine the role of the new lipids in development of atherosclerosis in mouse models.

3. Medical Research Council Research Grant (£820K, 2015-2019): Aims to determine the role of the lipids in normal skin physiology and wound responses in vivo.

4. Wellcome Trust Enhancement Award (£120K, 2014-2016): Aims to develop total synthesis approaches for generating new lipids for biological studies.

RESEARCH THEME 2. Discovery of new lipid mediators using high resolution LC/MS/MS and bioinformatic approaches.

We develop new methods to enable discovery of additional lipid classes of importance for health and disease. We roughly estimate that only 50% of existing lipids in mammalian cells have been structurally characterized to date. Thus, many key discoveries remain to be made regarding this important class of endogenous biomolecules.

1. European Research Council Advanced Grant (€2.9M, 2014-2019). Developing a high-resolution method termed LipidArrays that will enable the diversity and number of lipids in biological samples to be characterized. We are particularly focusing on cell development, cardiovascular disease and dementia in this study. Significant method development has included developing new software in collaboration with School of Computing and Informatics.