Summary

Background

By 2050 the number of people aged 60 years and over is projected to reach 2 billion. This ageing population is a greater risk of disease than younger cohorts and medical interventions for infectious and non-infectious conditions represents a considerable burden to healthcare systems. There is a steadily increasing problem with infectious disease due to antibiotic resistance in tandem with underlying comorbidities in the elderly. The gut microbiome (the totality of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi and their collective genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract) is taxonomically diverse and plays a vital role in health and disease. The microbiota of older people displays greater inter-individual variation and differs from the core microbiota and diversity levels of younger adults. This shift in the composition, function, and phylogenetic diversity of the gut microbiota is influenced by many factors including diet, pharmacological interventions and is associated with several chronic diseases.

As diet can be most readily modified, it offers a strategy to potentially reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistance. Improved understanding of how antibiotic resistance develops is a public health priority. An ageing population and increased comorbidities lead to more complex pharmacological therapies (polypharmacy) which can provide the selective pressure to develop antibiotic resistant bacteria and is putting the elderly hosts at greater risk from healthcare associated infection. The host microbiome is a potential reservoir for antibiotic resistant bacteria, yet little is known about how the microbiome might fulfil this role in the elderly.

PhD Project

This project will utilise and build upon a large, all-island collaborative ageing and health study that has been developed over the last 12 years - the Trinity-Ulster, Department of Agriculture (TUDA) study. The TUDA resource was established to assess nutritional, environmental and clinical factors in relation to health in ageing and provides extensive data on over 5000 adults of 60+ years across Ireland. Studies have recently been extended to involve a study of the gut microbiome in relation to the ageing process. This PhD project is a nutrition-microbiology collaboration and will extend ongoing work to investigate the composition and function of the gut microbiome with a particular focus on identifying the presence of antibiotic resistance genes (the resistome).

The overall aim will be to determine if characterisation of the resistome in TUDA participants will predict the success of antibiotic therapy. Next generation microbiome sequencing approaches will be applied to provide high taxonomic and functional resolution of the gut microbiome; allowing relationships between diet, pharmaceutical intervention and the resistome to be examined. This combination of cutting-edge nutritional research with microbiome analysis has the potential to have a significant impact on our understanding of human health and wellbeing.

This project will suit applicants with a primary degree in nutrition or biosciences with microbiology who have excellent interpersonal skills and are willing to learn new skills. Applicants must be willing to engage in collaborative research in Cork with the APC Microbiome Institute, encompassing Munster Technological (MTU) & Teagasc, to learn new laboratory skills and techniques for characterising microbiome composition and diversity.

Please note: Applications for more than one PhD studentships are welcome, however if you apply for more than one PhD project within Biomedical Sciences, your first application on the system will be deemed your first-choice preference and further applications will be ordered based on the sequential time of submission. If you are successfully shortlisted, you will be interviewed only on your first-choice application and ranked accordingly. Those ranked highest will be offered a PhD studentship. In the situation where you are ranked highly and your first-choice project is already allocated to someone who was ranked higher than you, you may be offered your 2nd or 3rd choice project depending on the availability of this project.


AccessNI clearance required

Please note, the successful candidate will be required to obtain AccessNI clearance prior to registration due to the nature of the project.


Essential criteria

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study.

We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • Clearly defined research proposal detailing background, research questions, aims and methodology

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area

Funding and eligibility

The University offers the following levels of support:

Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,840 (tbc) maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £8,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Department for the Economy (DFE)

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,840 (tbc) per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

  • Candidates with pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, who also satisfy a three year residency requirement in the UK prior to the start of the course for which a Studentship is held MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance.
  • Republic of Ireland (ROI) nationals who satisfy three years’ residency in the UK prior to the start of the course MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance (ROI nationals don’t need to have pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme to qualify).
  • Other non-ROI EU applicants are ‘International’ are not eligible for this source of funding.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living


Recommended reading

Ward M, Hughes CF, Strain JJ, et al. (2020) Impact of the common MTHFR 677C→T polymorphism on blood pressure in adulthood and role of riboflavin in modifying the genetic risk of hypertension: evidence from the JINGO project. BMC Med. 18(1):318.

The relationship between adiposity and cognitive function in a large community-dwelling population: data from the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture (TUDA) ageing cohort study. Ntlholang O, McCarroll K, Laird E, Molloy AM, Ward M, McNulty H, Hoey L, Hughes CF, Strain JJ, Casey M, Cunningham C. Br J Nutr. 2018 Sep;120(5):517-527. doi: 10.1017/S0007114518001848. Epub 2018 Jul 30.

Clooney AG, Fouhy F, Sleator RD, et al. (2016) Comparing Apples and Oranges?: Next Generation Sequencing and Its Impact on Microbiome Analysis. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0148028.

Ghosh TS, Rampelli S, Jeffery IB,   et   al.   (2020)   Mediterranean   diet intervention alters the gut microbiome in older people reducing frailty and improving health status: the NU-AGE 1-year dietary intervention across five European countries. Gut. 69:1218-1228.

Tavella T, Turroni S, Brigidi P, et al. (2021) The Human Gut Resistome up to Extreme Longevity. mSphere.00691-21 Montassier E, Valdés-Mas R, Batard E, et al. (2021) Probiotics impact the antibiotic resistance gene reservoir along the human GI tract in a person-specific and antibiotic-dependent manner. Nat Microbiol. 6(8):1043-1054.

Buelow E, Bello González TDJ, Fuentes S, et al. (2017) Comparative gut microbiota and resistome profiling of intensive care patients receiving selective digestive tract decontamination and healthy subjects. Microbiome. 5(1):88.

Araos R, Battaglia T, Ugalde JA, et al. (2019). Fecal Microbiome Characteristics and the Resistome Associated With Acquisition of Multidrug-Resistant Organisms Among Elderly Subjects. Front Microbiol. 10:2260.

Vich Vila A, Collij V, Sanna S, et al. (2020). Impact of commonly used drugs on the composition and metabolic function of the gut microbiota. Nat Commun. 2020 11(1):362.


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Kieran O'Donnell

My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

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Kamin Hau - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

Profile picture of Michelle Clements Clements

Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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I completed my undergraduate studies at Ulster University, where I graduated in 2017 with first class honours in Biomedical Science with a Diploma in Professional Practice . I joined the Diabetes Research group as a PhD researcher in September 2017 and completed my PhD studies in June 2020.I am proud to say I not only completed my PhD studies within 3 years, but also became the World Champion (with a perfect score!) in Irish Dance during my PhD studies. My favourite memory was the opportunity to present my PhD work at the EASD conference in 2019. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be to enjoy every single minute as the time flies in. I really would do another PhD!

Sarah Craig - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

I completed my undergraduate studies in America at Texas Woman’s University where I majored in Kinesiology. I then moved to Scotland to successfully complete my Masters with Merit in Human Anatomy at the University of Dundee.My proudest moment was when I passed my viva! My favourite memory was …the dissections. I’ll never forget the friends I made and the good times we had together. I couldn’t have got through this without the support of my family, friends, lab colleagues, supervisors, and my boyfriend. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be to write up after every experiment, keep a lot of back up copies of the work, and to enjoy the experience.

Natalie Klempel - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe

I studied Medical Neuroscience at the University of Sussex followed by a year working in Industry and then a Master's in Genetics at the University of Lyon in France, before coming to Ulster University for my PhD in Biomedical Sciences.I want to thank my fantastic supervisors Declan McKenna and Colum Walsh for teaching me so much and for being so supportive. I had a brilliant PhD experience, made all the better by my lovely supervisors, office-buddies, tearoom-buddies, and other friends. I also want to thank the amazing staff at the Coleraine campus gym for being so much fun and for giving me my love of fitness. I am so glad that I decided to join in the first year - it was really the thing that kept me sane during the stressful periods and I so enjoyed being part of that community. My best wishes to the rest of my cohort and good luck for the future.

Charlotte Zoe Angel - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

I studied BSc Biomedical Sciences with DPP at Ulster University and graduated with first class honours in 2017. I completed my placement year within the university research facilities in NICHE which inspired me to apply for a PhD. My PhD research was part of an internationally collaborative study, the Seychelles Child Development Study, and focused on associations between maternal diet, inflammation and oxidative stress in pregnancy. ​​I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Ulster University and being part of the Seychelles team. My proudest moment was successfully completing the PhD Viva! A special thank you to Dr Emeir McSorley, I am extremely grateful for the incredible support and supervision I received throughout my PhD journey. My favourite memory was attending a team meeting and conference in Seychelles in 2019. A PhD can be challenging but I will never forget the great friends/PhD family who made the experience

Toni Spence - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

I am originally from Nepal, having received my undergraduate and master's degree from Bangladesh. During my Master's degree, I chose area of diabetes research and then I was offered a PhD in the School of Biomedical Sciences on Diabetes Research. Currently, I'm working as a Scientist at Randox Laboratories Ltd. Thus, I would like to thank my supervisors, without them I wouldn't be in this position today.My proudest moment was when I presented my research outcomes to an international symposium. My favorite memory was the love of university staff and colleagues during my PhD tenure. I’ll never forget my supervisors, and especially Professor Peter Flatt, who has guided me in each step of my PhD life. I couldn’t have got through this without Professor Peter Flatt and Dr Yasser Abdel-Wahab and the University’s staff support.If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be after all the hard work, you will receive a

Prawej Ansari - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

My PhD journey was a real big challenge for me. It was unforgettable moment for me when I knew the possibility of the full transfer of my PhD project to Ulster University. A special thank you to Prof John Callan, I am extremely grateful for the incredible support and supervision I received throughout my PhD journey. I would like to express my gratitude to my beloved family (my father ”Rizk”, my mother ”Amany”, my husband “Ahmed” and my two lovely boys “Eslam & Adam”). I am deeply grateful for their unconditional love and overwhelming care which pushed me forward throughout my long journey in PhD. Nevertheless, I’m profoundly appreciative for their continuous encouragement and everlasting patience.My proudest moment was when I passed my Ph.D. viva, I couldn’t wait to let my dad and mom in Egypt know about theses great news, they were really proud of me and I always proud of them as well. My dad and mom gave me all the love

Nermeen Ali - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

I joined Ulster university in Jan 1990 after completing Postdoctoral research in Germany (1986-88) and PhD in India (1985). DSc degree in Applied Microbial-Biotechnology has been awarded after the evaluation of my thesis based on Research, Publication & related activities, completed as a research-active academic member of staff (1990-2019). DSc thesis summarised my scientific outputs and contributions (183 research papers, 3 biotechnology reference-books, 43 research-informed book-chapters, 26 research-informed review-articles, 90 conference-abstracts,1 European Patent and 2 Technology-transfers; Supervision of National & International researchers-18 Postdoctoral/Exchange and 12 PhD; and affiliations as Examiner of 58 PhD researchers globally, and Fellow & Member of nine scientific & academic societies.My message to all researchers is that "Chase your Aspirations and Never Give up". I couldn’t have got through my long academic & Professional journey without

Poonam Singh Nigam - DSc in Biomedical Sciences

I started my PhD after I completed my undergraduate in Biology at Ulster University in 2016, with a dissertation project that focused on genetic variations in bacterial species. I continued using some of these techniques in my doctoral research, which primarily involved the investigation and development of mass spectrometry imaging in vitamin D treated prostate cancer, looking at the metabolic and genetic variations upon treatment. I worked with international collaborators at the University of Edinburgh and Maastricht University, where I got to learn and develop mass spectrometry techniques that have not previously been carried out in Northern Ireland. I now work as a postdoctoral researcher at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, where I am helping to develop and implement a mass spectrometry imaging facility for users across the world with the super powerful 21T FT-ICR mass spectrometer.A PhD is a demanding process but when

Karl Smith - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

I graduated Ulster University in 2016 with a degree in Biomedical Science with DPP (Pathology). I was then offered a PhD studentship with Dr Catriona Kelly and Professor Neville McClenaghan at CTRIC which I started in September 2016. My PhD explored the pathophysiology of Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes, the most common co-morbidity associated with Cystic Fibrosis.My proudest moment was undoubtedly passing my Viva (via Skype!), but I was also proud to be given the opportunity to present my work at the UK Cystic Fibrosis Trust Conference in 2018. Through this conference, I was able to meet with people with CF and the challenges they face which was important reminder that the research I was doing mattered. I couldn't have got through this without the unwavering support of my family, who were always there for me in the good times and the bad. I am also extremely grateful for the support and mentorship of my supervisors Dr Catriona Kelly, Professor Neville McClenaghan and Dr Dawood Khan

Ryan Kelsey - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

My proudest moment was when I knew the possibility of the full transfer of my PhD project to Ulster University, the University which I loved and started my first steps towards my PhD in, and also being a PhD graduate from one of the highly reputable universities such as Ulster is a big thing which I should always be proud of. I think there is no that word that can ever express my deepest thanks and sincere appreciation to my supervisor Professor Kathryn Burnett for her ideal supervision, valuable guidance, encouragement, generous help and ultimate support throughout my PhD project. I have been really lucky to have her as a supervisor. Also my deepest gratitude to Mr Linden Ashfield, Principal Clinical Pharmacist, Antrim Area Hospital (NHSCT) for his help and endless support throughout the whole research project. Also, I could not have got through this without the support of my beloved family (my father ”Sayed”, my mother ”Gamila”, my wife “Nermeen”

Ahmed Abuelhana - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

I came to Ulster University in 2016 as an exchange student from East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST) and I got the Ph.D. opportunity with Prof John Callan in the School of Pharmacy of Ulster University in 2017. From then on, my Ph.D. journey begins. My Ph.D. research focused on the targeted treatment of pancreatic cancer and the thesis title was "The Delivery of Multiple Payloads to Solid Tumours using Ultrasound Targeted Microbubble Destruction". During my three years of research, I successfully developed a microbubble-based targeted drug delivery system for pancreatic cancer treatment and significantly improved the treatment efficiency and survival rates in the preclinical tests.From 2016 to 2021, I spend my five years in the Coleraine campus at Ulster University and I met wonderful supervisors and researchers here and shared happy memories. Five years are short and five years are long. It’s long enough to understand “good craics” and “aye

Jinhui Gao - PhD in Biomedical Sciences

I graduated from Queen's University Belfast with a Master's in pharmacy in 2014 and subsequently began working as a community pharmacist in the Greater Belfast area. My career began to take an unusual turn when I got involved with a small startup company who developed a novel blood glucose monitor for diabetic patients. From here, my interest in diabetes was piqued and I applied for a PhD project (somewhat optimistically!) in the Diabetes Research Group at Ulster. Nearly four years later, I'm still there working as a postdoctoral researcher. Not bad considering I never thought I had a chance of getting a PhD spot!My time within the DRG has been, and still is, fantastic. I've made life-long friends (and surprisingly few enemies!) who have been patient, helpful and a joy to collaborate with. I couldn't have got through it without them (you know who you are). Likewise, the guidance from my supervisors, Prof. Peter Flatt and Dr. Nigel Irwin, has been invaluable. I'm probably most proud of

Ryan Lafferty - PhD in Biomedical Sciences