School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences

Staff Profiles

Dr Vanessa Armstrong




Senior Fellow of HEA (2019)

Newcastle Teaching Award (2014)

PhD (2010) - Newcastle University  

BVetMed (2002) - Royal Veterinary College, London

BSc (1999) - University College London


Introduction to teaching and learning qualification (Newcastle) 



Society of General Microbiology

British Society of Immunology


Honours and Awards:

Grants for science communication/outreach activities- Physiology Society (2019), Immunology Society (2015)


Large Animal Intern teaching award at University of Pennsylvania





Module leader:           CMB2000        Essential skills in biomedical and biomolecular sciences
                                    CMB3003        Vacation Research module

                                    BMS3030        Professional placement year

Lectures in:                CMB1003       Microbiology with Immunology

 CMB2004       Cell and molecular biology of the immune system

                                    BMS2012        Clinical immunology and viral pathogens

                                    MRes              Toxicology

Practicals:                  CMB1006        Practical skills in Biomedical Sciences

                                    CMB2000        Practical and presentation skills in Biomedical Sciences

                                    CMB3001        Experimental design and the process of research

Seminar leader:         CMB2004        Cell and molecular biology of the immune system

Assessment:              BMS2012        Clinical immunology and viral pathogens

                                    CMB1005        Practical skills in biomedical and biomolecular sciences 1

                                    CMB1006        Practical skills in biomedical and biomolecular sciences 2

                                    MRes              Toxicology

                                    BMS2002        Cell biology and disease

                                    CMB2000        Essential skills in biomedical and biomolecular sciences

FMS mentor:

Academic lead in employability:

  • Actively promote careers events, advertise both work experience and potential employment opportunities to students.
  • Co-ordinate career-related clinics with the School and give careers support to undergraduates.
  • Established a series of interactive careers events under the title ‘Biomed Back For the Future’ with School alumni giving the presentations.
  • Co-ordinate optional non-credit modules within the School (career development module and languages).

Professional placement year co-ordinator:

  • Establishing links with industry, supporting and encouraging students to seek industrial year placements.
  • Established a new 4 year degree programme which includes a year in industry

University roles and memberships:

University level membership:


FMS Co-ordinator of Newcastle University Teaching and Scholarship Group (Newcastle Educators)

Placement Forum member

Roundtable on employability roles

MBBS selector (2013-)

BCUR & NCUR Committee member

School level:

Chair of stage 1 Board of Examiners

Board of Studies

Board of Examiners (phase 1)

Phase 1 advisor

Personal tutor (undergraduates)

 Phase 1 curriculum  committee

SOLAR (student outreach group) founder and staff co-ordinator



Previous research: 

I am particularly interested in the innate immune response within the gastro-intestinal tract of poultry.  My work has focussed on broilers (meat chickens).  Poor gut health has a major effect on bird welfare as well as bird performance which is a major factor commercially.  Different strain of chickens have been shown to perform very differently within different rearing environments.  Anti-microbial peptides have been shown to be important in innate immunity, a major group of these are known as Avian Beta Defensins (AvBD) in the chicken.  Early colonisation of the guts of young birds within the first two weeks of life has been shown to be importnat in developing good gut health later in life.  A complex relationship exists between the microbiota and the innate immune response and a level of tolerance develops. 

Single base changes (SNPs) within the genes encoding these AvBD peptides have been shown to occur with different lines of birds having different  combinations of polymorphisms. Research involved the design and completion of a farm trial with a view to ascertaining whether environmental conditions, age of bird and genetic make-up affect the expression of antimicrobial peptides and whether there are differences in potency of small intestinal gut scrapes.  Techniques used and developed within this study include; both quantatative real-time polymerase chain reactions, time kill assays of samples against laboratory bacterial strains and clinical isolates; hyper-expression of peptides using a bacterial model and protein identification and purification; development of an enzyme linked immune-absorbant assay (ELISA) to quantify levels of expressed protein; development of a protein extraction technique for gut mucosal scrapes and subsequent protein identification using a variety of techniques and  use of bioinformatics to determine single nucleotide polymorphism occurrence within the population of birds.

Current research interests:

Improving undergraduate employability and realisation and development of skills needed for life after university is a topic I am very passionate about. 

I am currently working on a few research projects related to employability in particular placements and trying to develop and increase opportunities for current undergraduates. Collaborations both within NU and also across institutions is something that I am actively involved with.  Trying to gain an idea of student perceptions of placements alongside motivations or inhibitory factors is essential to gain a full understanding of this area within the life sciences.  Work with University of Liverpool and University of Kingston has proven very useful (ERDP Grant awarded).

Alongside Dr Lawry in SBNS I am working on an interactive careers timeline fro our students, helping to improve student interactions with opportunities and employability related resources (University Development Grant 2018). We are also working on a project showcasing the use of Microsoft Office Team in engaging students with employability-related opportunities within the School.

Investigation into the skills developed through final year dissertations is another study I am currently working on alongside colleagues Dr Meplan, Dr Wilkinson and Dr Jung (University Development Grant 2019).

Key talks and events contributed to:

 2019    Cross-institutional study on placements in life sciences AGCAS research conference 2019, Newcastle University, (presentation and poster)

2019    Future of Work (Un) Conference 2019,Newcastle University. Discussion track lead for health and biosciences

2019    Cross-institutional study on placements in life sciences, HESTEM 2019, University of Kingston (collaborator presented)

2019    Cross-institutional study on placements in life sciences, Newcastle Learning and Teaching Conference, Newcastle University (poster)

2019    Watching you, watching me: Newcastle Educators peer dialogue observation scheme, Newcastle Learning and Teaching Conference, Newcastle University (lightening talk)

2019    How the University is embedding Employability and Enterprise (through Academic Leads), Newcastle Learning and Teaching Conference, Newcastle University (lightening talk)

2019    Cross-institutional study on placements in life sciences, Newcastle Learning and Teaching Conference, Newcastle University (poster)

2017    AGCAS conference Manchester (careers)- update on HEA project on embedding employability in Biosciences (poster)

2017    Employability and Enterprise conference, Newcastle University, Newcastle Educators

2017    Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship 2017: Learning Through Collaboration, Sheffield University, presentation on employability in Biosciences

2017    Newcastle University Learning and Teaching Conference. Teaching at Newcastle University. Newcastle Educators Group (talk and workshop)

2017    Suitably skilled? Matching bioscience graduate skills and employer expectations. North East Universities (3 Rivers Consortium, co-presented with stage 2 student Bimasal Tabassum)

2015    Enhancing Molecular Bioscience Education (poster presentation on HEA work)

2014    HEA Bioscience Conference – Employability and transferrable skills

2013    Empowerment through engagement – ownership through involvement. North East Universities (3 Rivers Consortium presentation) learning and teaching conference

2013    The F Word: What 1st year Bioscience Students think of their feedback. Faculty of Medical Sciences Learning and Teaching forum

2013    Engaging students in Bioscience Education: Use of blogging as a form of assessment for third year Biomedical Science student (poster). HEA event.