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Funded PhD Opportunity

MTHFR genotype and its interaction with B-vitamins in relation to blood pressure and neurodevelopment in early childhood: OptiPREG Offspring study

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Summary

Hypertension is the leading risk factor contributing to mortality worldwide, primarily from cardiovascular disease (CVD), while effective treatment of hypertension is proven to reduce CVD events. Epidemiological studies from the western countries have shown a substantial increase of the prevalence of high blood pressure (BP) in children with rates of around 5% for hypertension (1-2) and up to 14% for elevated BP (3).

High blood pressure in children is frequently undetected allowing considerable damage to occur of the arterial system, heart and other organs (4). Emerging evidence suggests that the brain is one of the main targets affected by  hypertension with studies showing inverse association between elevated BP and child neurocognitive performance (5). Moreover, the presence of elevated BP in childhood has serious implications in later life as it is a key risk factor predictive of hypertension and CVD in adults (6). Therefore, the early diagnosis and prevention of hypertension in children by addressing the risk factors for the condition is of pivotal importance.

The cause of the primary hypertension in children is generally unknown; however, it is considered that the interplay between genetic and environmental factors has an important role. The common 677C→T polymorphism in the MTHFR gene is associated with an increased risk of hypertension in adults and pregnant women (7) and previous trials from our Centre in hypertensive adults have shown that riboflavin can lower BP specifically in those with homozygous variant (TT genotype; 8-10). However, it is unknown whether the adverse effect of TT genotype on BP is present in early childhood.

The project will achieve the following objectives:

* To investigate BP in relation to TT genotype in early childhood;

* To examine the effect of maternal riboflavin supplementation during pregnancy on BP in offspring with TT genotype;

* To investigate the relationship between neurodevelopment and BP in children with TT genotype.

Methods:

Currently we are conducting a randomised controlled trial, Optimal Nutrition for the Prevention of Hypertension (OptiPREG) which overall aim is to investigate the role of TT genotype as a determinant of blood pressure in pregnancy and to test the response of blood pressure to maternal supplementation with riboflavin. Pregnant women screened for the TT genotype were randomised to receive low dose riboflavin or placebo from 16 GW until delivery. Blood pressure was measured and blood sample was taken before and the end of the intervention. Cord blood was taken at delivery. All blood samples were analysed for relevant vitamin B status parameters.  Mother-child pairs participating in the original trial will be followed-up in the first year of the child (OptiPREG Offspring study). Information on the health and feeding of the baby and the health of the mother (postpartum) will be collected by a specially designed questionnaire. Infant’s BP and anthropometric measurements will be taken. Child’s neurodevelopment will be assessed by Bayley Scale for Infant and Toddler Development.

The PhD student will be involved in the running of the OptiPREG Offspring study and will receive full training for the required methodology; however, previous experience in subject recruitment would be an advantage. Opportunities will be given the findings of the project to be presented at relevant national and international scientific forums.

References:

1. Peters et al. J Hypertens 2012;30(9):1708-17.

2.  Santi et al. Curr Opin Cardiol 2015; 30(4):403-10.

3. Sharma et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(6):557-565.

4. Gopinath et al. J Hypertens. 2010; 28(7):1406-12.

5. Lande & Kupferman. Hypertension 2019;73:532-540.

6. Berenson et al. N Engl J Med 1998;338(23):16501656.

7. McNulty et al. Mol Aspects Med 2017;53:2-9.

8. Horigan et al. J Hypertens 2010;28(3):478-86.

9. Wilson et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95(3):766-72.

10. Wilson et al. Hypertension. 2013;61(6):1302-8.


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


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

Professor Kristina Pentieva


Other supervisors

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