Funded PhD Opportunity Off Target Benefits of GLP-1 therapy in type 2 Diabetes

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Diabetes is characterized by hyperglycaemia with Type 2 diabetes (T2D) accounting for 90% of all cases (~450M cases globally). Obesity and a lack of exercise increase a person’s risk of T2D. Hyperglycaemia in T2D creates several complications for patients, including risk of heart disease, depression and memory loss. This study will focus on a class of drugs called GLP-1 analogues that are currently used to bring hyperglycaemia under control in T2D. However, early evidence shows that GLP-1 analogues reduce the risk of heart disease and improve depression and memory. A clinical trial assessing the efficacy of liraglutide (a GLP-1 analogue) in early Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is ongoing; however, patients with T2D are excluded.

AIM: To evaluate anti-depressant, anxiolytic, cognitive and cardiovascular outcomes in patients with T2D treated with GLP-1 analogues, as part of their routine clinical care, compared to those treated with other T2D drugs.

EXPERIMENTAL PLAN: Participants receiving GLP-1 therapy as part of their routine clinical care who have a diagnosis of T2D alone and those with both T2D and (AD)/Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) will be compared with control groups treated with other T2D drugs, and apparently healthy controls. All participants will be recruited from the WHSTC. Ethical approval and research governance is in place for this study and the recruitment process has been established in on-going studies. This approach will provide an indication of the efficacy of GLP-1 therapy on cognitive outcomes in patients with T2D and MCI/AD.

In brief, the proposed programme of work will address the following objectives:

Objective 1: Compare Beck Depression inventory scores between those on GLP-1 analogues, other T2D drugs, and apparently healthy controls.

Objective 2: Compare Beck anxiety inventory scores in patients on GLP-1 analogues, other T2D drugs, and healthy controls.

Objective 3: Compare Standardised Mini Mental State Exam (SMMSE) scores and Quick Mild Cognitive Impairment screen (qMCI) scores in patients on GLP-1 analogues, other T2D drugs, and apparently healthy controls.

Objective 4: Compare cardiovascular comorbidity in patients on GLP-1 analogues, other T2D drugs, and apparently healthy controls.

Objective 5: Compare Beck depression and anxiety inventories, SMMSE and qMCI in prospective participants at baseline, and 6 months after initiation of therapy to assess changes in scores attributable to GLP-1 analogue therapy. This research will determine whether the cardioprotective benefits of GLP-1 analogue therapy, suggested in clinical trial populations, are realized in the general T2D population. It will also assess if anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and neuroprotective effects of GLP-1 result in significantly improved scores in standardized assessments in a general T2D population. GLP-1 analogues are expensive compared to other T2D drugs and are not normally prescribed to people with newly diagnosed T2D, but as a fourth-line therapy. If the findings of this study indicate GLP-1 analogues reduce heart disease, depression and memory loss in the general T2D population this may promote their use earlier in T2D progression. Prevention of complications would offset the cost of these drugs. This study will provide important information that will inform clinical decision making in T2D treatment.

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
  • 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
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement


    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

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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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.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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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

Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
6, 7 and 8 March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Dr Paula McClean

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #238190 when applying for this PhD opportunity