Funded MRes Opportunity Health impacts of optimising folate and related B vitamins in pregnancy and early life

This opportunity is now closed.

This project is funded by: DSM Nutritional Products

Subjects: Biomedical Sciences and Biomedical Sciences


Hypertension affects an estimated 15% of pregnancies (National Health Service, 2015) and can lead to more serious hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia and fetal growth restriction (Srinivas et al., 2009). Hypertensive disorders during pregnancy carry risks for both the pregnant woman and the fetus. Currently, hypertension in pregnancy is treated with blood pressure medication, which not only is very costly for health systems, but is also associated with adverse side effects in pregnancy that can be detrimental to the fetus (Rosenthal and Oparil, 2002). Thus, the identification of alternative treatments and prevention strategies for hypertension would be hugely advantageous to maternal and fetal health.

Low maternal folate status has been associated with an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes including gestational hypertension, while some randomised controlled trials (RCTs) have shown that improved folate status may help to prevent these conditions (Kim et al., 2014). Inconsistencies in the evidence could partly be explained by genetic differences among populations. Emerging evidence from this centre and elsewhere have associated homozygosity for the common C677T polymorphism, the TT genotype, in the gene encoding the  folate-metabolising enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) with hypertension in non-pregnant adults (Newton-Cheh et al., 2009; Horigan et al., 2010; Wilson et al., 2012; Wilson et al., 2013). According to unpublished research from our group, women with the TT genotype in combination with a low riboflavin biomarker status will enter pregnancy with a higher blood pressure compared to CC women and are at an increased risk of developing hypertension (O’Sullivan et al.; under review).

This MRes project builds on this evidence with an overall aim will be to investigate the role of folate and related B vitamins on blood pressure during pregnancy in relation to the MTHFR 677TT genotype and will involve conducting an RCT in a cohort of pregnant women to optimise B vitamin status with the potential to influence blood pressure, and in turn, prevent hypertension in women with the TT genotype. The project will form part of the ongoing OptiPREG study (Optimal nutrition for prevention of hypertension using a personalised approach).

Methods: Women with a singleton pregnancy who are at the start of the second trimester of pregnancy will be recruited from antenatal clinics in Letterkenny General Hospital and will be screened for MTHFR genotype. Those with the TT genotype and age-matched CT pregnant women will be assigned to a double-blinded, RCT with B vitamin supplementation until the end of their pregnancy. Phlebotomy training will be provided and the student will gain experience in running a human trial, recording, storing and analysing results using appropriate statistical methods and in the use of a range of relevant laboratory measures (related to B vitamin status). The student will be required to work closely with the wider OptiPREG team and own or have access to a vehicle.

Additional Criteria

  • Must own or have access to a vehicle and hold a current clean driver’s licence.

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)


This project is funded by: DSM Nutritional Products

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home and EU rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 for one year.

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
Friday 21 June 2019
Interview Date
1st/2nd July 2019


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
Our coastal and riverside campus focussing on science and health

Contact Supervisor

Professor Helene McNulty

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #413241 when applying for this PhD opportunity