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Funded PhD Opportunity

A novel therapeutic targeting the inflammasome as a treatment for glaucoma.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Summary

BACKGROUND:

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and is a global problem that affects over 60 million people. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease and, with the rapidly expanding aging population, the number of people diagnosed with glaucoma is predicted to exceed 100 million by 2040. Glaucoma is characterised by the progressive loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Unfortunately, there is not currently a cure for glaucoma and intraocular pressure (IOP) reduction remains the only treatment strategy for all types of glaucoma. Pseudoexfoliation glaucoma, a secondary glaucoma, presents with much higher IOP than observed in open-angle glaucoma. There is growing evidence that axon damage in the optic nerve head precedes death of the RGCs, this axon damage has been linked to glial activation and inflammation. While inflammation is normally helpful and part of the wound healing response to injury, if this inflammation is excessive or continues for a prolonged time, it can change from a helpful to harmful response that further damages the nerves in the eye. Therefore, regulating inflammation is an important therapeutic target that could prevent disease progression in patients with glaucoma. The ‘NLRP3 inflammasome’ is expressed in the optic nerve head and has been shown to become activated during glaucoma. By targeting the NLRP3 inflammasome, it may be possible to inhibit harmful inflammation against the nerves in the eye and prevent vision loss in glaucoma patients. Through the role of the NLRP3 inflammasome in many inflammatory diseases, this has led to the development of a novel therapeutic that can target the inflammasome. Promising findings have been obtained for the use of this therapeutic in both glaucoma and other inflammatory conditions.

OBJECTIVES:

This proposed study will

(i) recruit a cohort of glaucoma patients within Northern Ireland and study the expression of inflammsome proteins and their association with IOP, age of onset and type of glaucoma,

(ii) identify biomarkers of inflammation in glaucoma that will determine which patients would benefit most from an anti-inflammatory therapy that targets the inflammasome in the eye,

(iii) further characterise the therapeutic to fully understand the mechanism of action and downstream effects in vitro; this will involve the use of glaucoma relevant cell lines including astrocytes, microglia and retinal ganglion cells.

This PhD project in collaboration with Dr Gregory Ksanders at Harvard Medical School, will provide the opportunity to generate a comprehensive dataset that will help move this novel glaucoma therapeutic from the pre-clinical to the clinical phase improving the treatment of glaucoma patients.

Researcher will be based at C-TRIC (Altnagelvin Hospital site).


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

Watch Video  

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

Magee campus

Magee campus
A key player in the economy of the north west


Contact supervisor

Dr Victoria McGilligan


Other supervisors

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