Summary

A common pathogenic mechanism for progression in numerous chronic neurodegenerative diseases (including Alzheimer’s [AD]) is a direct relationship between microvascular pathology, including excessive, unregulated angiogenesis and cognitive decline1. Several meta-analyses have shown that “Western” style diets are associated with cognitive decline while those rich in fruit and vegetables are associated with better cognition in older adults. The World Health Organisation highlighted that significantly more nutrition-based research is required to better understand lifestyle factors influencing the risk of developing dementia. Such studies will inform effective prevention strategies and promote better brain health in older age. Poly-phenol rich fruits including raspberries have positive effects on aspects of cognition3, that are neither fully explained by effects on neurogenesis nor by their effects on inflammation. Raspberry (poly)phenols have been reported to be neuroprotective4, exerting both anti-angiogenic properties as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Dietary factors as well as drug interventions can alter disease pathophysiology and recently, we described that Liraglutide® a drug used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes restores microvascular pathology and slows onset of mild cognitive impairment (a precursor to AD) in the APP/PS-1 mouse model2. We hypothesised that raspberry (poly)phenols can reduce microvascular pathology in APP/PS-1 mice resulting in improved cognition, related to circulating and tissue levels of (poly)phenols.

The project, supported by the National Processed Raspberry Council/USDA, examines long-term intake of a berry rich diet in reducing microvascular damage and cognitive decline in the APP/PS-1 mouse. A wide variety of methods: including molecular biological techniques, vascular casting, scanning electron microscopy, histological processing, immunohistochemical staining, analysis/stereology, metabolomics analysis (LCMSn, Dr G Mc Dougall, James Hutton Institute) and statistical techniques will be applied. The candidate should be highly motivated and demonstrate the ability to work independently as well as part of a dynamic research group. Excellent written and oral communication skills are required, the results of this PhD will be presented at local, national and International meetings.

This project will be based in Ulster's Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE).

References

1) Kelly P., Denver P., Satchell S., Ackermann M., Konerding M. Mitchell C. A.(2017) Microvascular ultrastructural changes precede cognitive impairment in the APPswe/PS1dE9 model of Alzheimer’s disease. Angiogenesis DOI 10.1007/s10456-017-9568-3.

2) Kelly, P., P. L. McClean, M. Ackermann, M. A. Konerding, C. Holscher and Mitchell C.A. (2015) Restoration of cerebral and systemic microvascular architecture in APP/PS1 transgenic mice following treatment with Liraglutide. Microcirculation 22(2): 133-145.

3) Shukitt-Hale B., Bielinski D. F., Lau F. C., Willis L. M., Carey A. N., Joseph J. A. (2015) The beneficial effects of berries on cognition, motor behaviour and neuronal function in ageing. British Journal of Nutrition 114, 1542-1549.

4) Im S. E., Nam T. G., Lee H., Han M. W., Heo H. J., Koo S. I., Lee C. Y., Kim D. O. (2013) Anthocyanins in the ripe fruits of Rubus coreanus Miquel and their protective effect on neuronal PC-12 cells. Food Chemistry 139, 604-610.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

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.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings

Funding

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for 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 £15,000 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.

    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 £7,500 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.

    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.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. 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.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

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

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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