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Funded PhD Opportunity

Towards seeing clearly: does the shape of the eye’s optics affect our focus?

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Summary

Visual problems are common in DS, including reduced vision, refractive errors, cataract and keratoconus. Life expectancy in DS has increased substantially in recent years; thus the focus of medical care in Down syndrome has shifted to quality of life and management of treatable illnesses.  Consequently, maximising vision in this population should be a priority to positively impact on visual, intellectual and social development.

The eye has two main optical components, the cornea and the crystalline lens, which under optimum conditions should deliver focussed light to the retina, the photosensitive neural tissue at the back of the eye. Accommodation (focussing) is an important optical regulation that enables the eye to change focus on objects at different distances.  This occurs through adjustment of the crystalline lens shape by the action of the intra-ocular ciliary muscle. The structure of the DS eye is known to differ, with thinner crystalline lenses and steeper corneae. The atypical structure of the optics of the DS eye may be an underpinning reason for poorer vision, and may also contribute to hypo-accommodation, which our group have established is a frequent finding in DS. Our group have also reported that the DS eye has an increased magnitude of whole-eye higher order aberrations. With advances in faster acquisition and higher resolution, it is now feasible to capture images of the lens of the eye in DS, as shown by our recent study which has successfully employed ocular coherence tomography (OCT) and bespoke slit-lamp photographic imaging of the eye in DS to examine cataract.

The next important step in understanding the impact of the difference eye shape may make to vision and accommodation is investigation of the shape of the lens through computational modelling of the eye in DS.  The eye is a system by which computational modelling is strongly promising to help us understand the genetic and age-related changes that occur. There are a few studies which have recently used finite element modelling to try to understand the forces and flex of the lens during accommodation and these both move research forward in building a whole-eye model of accommodation, but also highlight the remaining uncertainties with assumptions about the refractive index and makeup of the lens.

This study will analyse lens images, utilise information on the parameters of the optical components of the eye, and establish a computational model of the DS eye. Using the model, changes in lens shape and the impact of blur cues and spherical aberration will be investigated and compared to a typical ‘control’ model. This study will address the question of whether the structure of the eye in DS is not conducive to exhibiting accurate accommodation. This project extends the long-standing research work investigating vision in DS, but also will have a much broader impact in understanding accommodative function in general. Decline in accommodative ability affects every human in the fourth and fifth decades of life, requiring reading glasses, yet we still have a limited understanding of the exact mechanism underlying accommodation.


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

  • 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

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
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area

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 £ 15,009 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

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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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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Profile picture of William Crowe

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 7 February 2020

Interview Date
9 to 20 March 2020


Applying

Apply Online  


Campus

Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
The feeling of community at our Coleraine campus makes for a warm and welcoming student experience.


Contact supervisor

Dr Julie-Anne Little


Other supervisors

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