Funded PhD Opportunity Exercise and Epigenetics in Diabetes

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism


According to the World Health Organisation, 422 million people are living with diabetes, and in Northern Ireland, over 100,000 people are diagnosed with diabetes. The NHS spent over £9.8 billion on diabetes in 2016, of which 80% was associated with long-term complications that could have been avoided (Baxter et al, 2016; Diabetic Medicine 33, 1575-1581). It is estimated that by 2035, 17% of the NHS budget will be spent on treating diabetes-related complications (Hex et al, 2012; Diabetic Medicine 29, 855-862) but according to Baxter et al (2016), a saving of £340 million is possible if glycaemic control is improved. Hyperglycaemia persists in diabetes despite exogenous insulin therapy, leading to potentially life-threatening complications including diabetic ketoacidosis, retinopathy, nephropathy and neuropathy (Wolfsdorf et al, 2014; Diabetes 15, 1-25).  Individuals with T1DM are reliant on exogenous insulin therapy to establish a state of euglycemia (Chiang et al, 2014; Diabetes Care 37, 2034-2054), while exercise can also assist blood glucose control, predominately as a result of changes occurring to skeletal muscle metabolism.  The pathogenesis of T1DM is predominantly genetic; gene modifications through environmental stimuli may play a role in the development of this autoimmune condition (Jerram et al, 2017; Curr Diab Rep 17 (10). A chemical modification of DNA, known as methylation, occurs without changing the nucleotide base pairing, which can subsequently repress gene expression (Carvalho et al, 2014; Epigenetics 9, 1604-1612). Although exercise improves blood glucose control by activating GLUT-4 protein, little is known regarding DNA methylation following exercise in T1DM.

The aim of this project is to examine DNA methylation and glucose control following exercise. The project will further determine DNA methylation in newly-diagnosed individuals compared to those with established diabetes, and whether DNA methylation is altered in individuals with oscillating blood glucose.

This PhD studentship will involve the completion of several studies designed to examine the relationship between exercise and epigenetics in T1DM. The work will require the extraction of muscle tissue from a lower limb along with routine phlebotomy. Blood and muscle sample analyses will be varied in approach and will depend on the study. Over the duration of the studentship, the successful candidate will gain experience at utilising the following analytical techniques: EPR spectroscopy, HPLC, DNA microarray scanning and RT-PCR.

This PhD project would suit a graduate from the areas of biomedical science, exercise science or stratified medicine. The successful applicant should have a good knowledge of epigenetics and a sound knowledge of wet laboratory techniques would be an advantage. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively through oral and written means is also a desirable quality.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • 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
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Professor Gareth Davison

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #237744 when applying for this PhD opportunity