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Rachel O'Brien-Waddington

Professor Rachel O'Brien-Waddington

Director of Staff Wellbeing and Development, Professor of Oral Biochemistry

School of Dentistry

+44 29225 10647
University Dental Hospital, Room Room 412, Heath Park, Cardiff, CF14 4XY


Rachel Waddington is a Professor in Oral Biochemistry.  With more than 30 years' experience, my research has had a long-standing focus for understanding the role of the extracellular matrix environment in the regulation the biology of bone and dentine repair; research that aims to be translational for provoking clinical benefit.

Matrix components and extracellular vesicles produced by mesenchymal stem / progenitor cells contain and regulate the release of a rich cocktail of growth factors, that are collectively important in directing effective and efficient cell signalling during cell differentiation.  Recently my research has investigated:

  • how the extracellular matrix environment is altered during systemic conditions such as chronic type 2 diabetes mellitus, leading to inefficient cell signalling that compromises the healing process and exacerbates periodontal tissue destruction;
  • how the extracellular matrix environment is altered by blue light therapies and the role of reactive oxygen species in this process.
  • investigating tissue and cell derived matrix products and extracellular vesicles for restoring the signalling environment and potentially reverse delayed bone healing often encountered with these systemic conditions;
  • the influence of modifying titanium implant surfaces on cellular activity that is beneficial for promoting bone healing and hence allows for quicker and more efficient integration of medical implants.





























Book sections


The clinical management of bone fractures and implant placement, including revision / replacement is orientated towards obtaining bone healing in the shortest time frame, with the best possible functional recovery, and with the least complications arising; features that remain a challenge for patients with osteoporosis or chronic diabetes.  Against this clinical challenge my research has developed a focussed interest towards understanding and exploiting the role of extracellular matrix in directing bone and dentine repair.  Below is a summary of current research projects.

  • Alterations to extracellular matrix proteins associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus

Within these systemic conditions, the biological activity of mesenchymal stem cells is reported to be impaired leading to delayed bone healing.  Within this field of research we have been investigating how a hyperglycaemic environment can lead to changes in the levels of extracellular proteins decorin, biglycan, transforming growth factor ß and osteopontin - all of which have the potential to hinder the synthesis of a fully mineralised tissue.  Additional studies have investigated how bacterial virulence factors can exacerbate these changes with detrimental consequence for progression of periodontal disease  and osteomyelitis in these patients.

  • Cell and tissue derived matrix-based therapies for restoring signalling environment associated with delayed bone healing

The extracellular matrix is a rich source of growth factors, integrated into the extracellular matrix that regulates their activity.  Our research has investigated the potential of demineralized dentine matrix as a store of growth factors capable of promoting bone repair processes.  In addition, our research is currently investigating the potential of extracellular vesicles, secreted from dentally derived mesenchymal stem cells, and their role as carriers of a biologically active cargo capable of enhancing the differentiation of bone marrow stromal cells into bone synthesizing osteoblasts.

  • Influence of modified titanium surfaces on bone repair processes

Through detailed studies involving a series of standardised cell- and tissue-based assays, we have investigated how defined and subtle surface modifications to titanium implant biomaterials can influence osteoblast differentiation.  These studies additionally study cellular activity supporting angiogenesis and appropriate macrophage function, both of which are recognised as pre-requisites for successful bone healing.


  • Fellow of Advanced HE since 2001; Awarded Senior fellowship of Advanced HE, 2021.
  • Current Year 1 and year 2 non-clinical lead for BDS course Cardiff University.
  • Undergraduate and postgraduate teaching - bone and dentine biology, tooth development and structure, periodontal connective tissues in health and disease, osseointegration, fluoride and mineralised tissues and caries development.
  • Programme director for MSc Oral Biology, School of Dentistry, Cardiff University.
  • Educational experience in academic course management; course development and validation; preparation of assessment criteria and content for both formative and summative assessments.
  • External examiner for higher degrees PhD theses. External examiner for MSc Oral Biology, Queen Mary University of London.
  • Past and present external examiner for Basic Biomedical Science modules on Undergraduate BDS courses at University of Liverpool, UK, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK,  Queen's University Belfast, UK, University of Bristol, UK, University of Malaya, Malaysia; University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
  • Extensive mentoring experience for early stage researchers and academics, both within Cardiff University and other Welsh academic institutions.
  • Proactive for development and training activities for academic staff career progression, including career development for early career postdoctoral researchers.


Rachel Waddington is a non-clinical Professor in Oral Biochemistry and is the current President of the British Society for Dental Research. As a non-clinical professor she has worked in academia since her appointment as lecturer in the School of Dentistry in 1989.

Her research interests centre on the cell and matrix biology of bone and dentine repair, and applying this research to improved diagnosis, management and treatment in clinical dentistry and orthopaedic medicine. She has published 100+ peer-reviewed publications (h-index 33 (Scopus); 34 (Google Scholar), 2022), edited 1 academic book, over 200 conference abstracts.  During her career she has successfully received grant funding from UK research councils, Wellcome Trust, Welsh government, EU, charity and industrial sources.

Over the past 10 years Rachel has been involved in driving the School’s Athena SWAN action plan with a collective aim to support all academics thrive in a competitive academic environment and in 2020 she led the School’s submission to a successful award.  In her current role as Associate Director for Staff and Student Matters she is facilitating the implementation of these actions, with strong focus on staff development and wellbeing.

Honours and awards

During her career Rachel has been awarded the Senior Colgate prize (1990) and the MINTIG Mineralised Tissue Research travel prize (1996), both awarded by the British Society for Dental and Oral Research.

In 1993 she received a Royal Society Overseas Study award to undertake a research sabbatical at the University of Toronto, Canada.


Rachel has successfully supervised more than 25 PhD doctoral and 15 masters research student projects. Approximately 90% of PhD students have successfully progressed into research positions on graduating and six have been successful in establishing academic careers within university institutions in the UK, Sweden, US, Iraq and Malysia.