Dr Robert Hirst

Principal Scientist

School/Department: Respiratory Sciences, Department of

Telephone: +44 (0)776 284 1274



I hold a degree in applied Biochemistry and then read for a PhD in Pharmacology at the University of Leicester graduating in 1997. Translating research on cilia for direct human benefit is paramount in my endeavour. I lead the laboratory team diagnosing Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia in the midlands and north of England for the NHS. I am fascinated by human ciliopathies and their mechanisms in leading to human disease. My work focuses on the interaction of human respiratory epithelial cilia with infectious agents.


Funding for our research is predominantly from the Department of Health. Our work has led to many discoveries of new genes that when mutated cause PCD. We study the mechanisms of ciliary function and the internal structure of the cilia. To do this we deploy a number of specialised techniques such as high speed video microscopy nasal nitric oxide measurement primary cell culture immunohistochemistry and transmission electron microscopy. We are able to also use these techniques to further study the interactions of the cilia with infectious agents and to determine the effect of environmental changes on ciliary function. We are ambitious to further translate our work to understanding more about ciliary function in other diseases of the respiratory tract including (but not limited to) Asthma COPD Bronchiectasis and Cystic Fibrosis.


(0) 1. Robert A Hirst, Andrew Rutman, Gwyneth Williams, Chris O'Callaghan: Ciliated air-liquid cultures as an aid to diagnostic testing of primary ciliary dyskinesia. Chest 12/2010; 138(6):1441-7. 
2. Robert A Hirst, Claire L Jackson, Janice L Coles, Gwyneth Williams, Andrew Rutman, Patricia M Goggin, Elizabeth C Adam, Anthony Page, Hazel J Evans, Peter M Lackie, Christopher O'Callaghan, Jane S Lucas: Culture of primary ciliary dyskinesia epithelial cells at air-liquid interface can alter ciliary phenotype but remains a robust and informative diagnostic aid. PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(2):e89675
3. C O'Callaghan, A Rutman, G M Williams, R A Hirst: Inner dynein arm defects causing primary ciliary dyskinesia: repeat testing required. European Respiratory Journal 03/2011; 38(3):603-7
4. Rubbo B, Shoemark A, Jackson CL, Hirst R, Thompson J, Hayes J, Frost E,
Copeland F, Hogg C, O'Callaghan C, Reading I, Lucas JS; National PCD Service,
UK. Accuracy of High-Speed Video Analysis to Diagnose Primary Ciliary
Dyskinesia. Chest. 2019 May;155(5):1008-1017.
5. Lucas JS, Barbato A, Collins SA, Goutaki M, Behan L, Caudri D, Dell S, Eber
E, Escudier E, Hirst RA, Hogg C, Jorissen M, Latzin P, Legendre M, Leigh MW,
Midulla F, Nielsen KG, Omran H, Papon JF, Pohunek P, Redfern B, Rigau D,
Rindlisbacher B, Santamaria F, Shoemark A, Snijders D, Tonia T, Titieni A,
Walker WT, Werner C, Bush A, Kuehni CE. European Respiratory Society guidelines
for the diagnosis of primary ciliary dyskinesia. Eur Respir J. 2017 Jan
6. Biju Thomas, Andrew Rutman, Robert A Hirst, Pranab Haldar, Andrew J Wardlaw, John Bankart, Christopher E Brightling, Christopher O'Callaghan: Ciliary dysfunction and ultrastructural abnormalities are features of severe asthma. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology 10/2010; 126(4):722-729. 
7. Hannah M Mitchison, Miriam Schmidts, Niki T Loges, Judy Freshour, Athina Dritsoula, Rob A Hirst, Christopher O'Callaghan, Hannah Blau, Maha Al Dabbagh, Heike Olbrich, Philip L Beales, Toshiki Yagi, Huda Mussaffi, Eddie M K Chung, Heymut Omran, David R Mitchell: Mutations in axonemal dynein assembly factor DNAAF3 cause primary ciliary dyskinesia. Nature Genetics 03/2012; 44(4):381-9. 
8. Mieke Boon, Julia Wallmeier, Lina Ma, Niki Tomas Loges, Martine Jaspers, Heike Olbrich, Gerard W Dougherty, Johanna Raidt, Claudius Werner, Israel Amirav, Avigdor Hevroni, Revital Abitbul, Avraham Avital, Ruth Soferman, Marja Wessels, Christopher O'Callaghan, Eddie M K Chung, Andrew Rutman, Robert A Hirst, Eduardo Moya, Hannah M Mitchison, Sabine Van Daele, Kris De Boeck, Mark Jorissen, Chris Kintner, Harry Cuppens, Heymut Omran: MCIDAS mutations result in a mucociliary clearance disorder with reduced generation of multiple motile cilia. Nature Communications 01/2014; 5:4418. 
9. Claire M Smith, Sara Sandrini, Sumit Datta, Primrose Freestone, Sulman Shafeeq, Priya Radhakrishnan, Gwyneth Williams, Sarah M Glenn, Oscar P Kuipers, Robert A Hirst, Andrew J Easton, Peter W Andrew, Christopher O'Callaghan: RSV Increases the Virulence of Streptococcus pneumoniae by Binding to PBP1a: a New Paradigm in Respiratory Infection. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 06/2014; 190; 196-207. 
10. Leventea, E, Zhu, Z, Fang, X, Nikolaeva, Y, Markham, E, Hirst,RA, Van Eeden FJM and Malicki, JJ. Ciliopathy genes are required for apical secretion of Cochlin, an otolith crystallization factor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118 (28).


Primary ciliary dyskinesia and ciliary function in disease


Masters project supervisor and marker.

Press and media

Primary ciliary dyskinesia


European BEAT PCD network European Respiratory Society British Thoracic Society


European Respiratory Society 201520172018; Cilia Mucociliary interactions conference 2019


BSc (Hons) Applied Biochemistry PhD Pharmacology
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