UK: Fully Funded PhD Studentship at University of East Anglia in School of Biological Sciences

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Modelling Multiple Sclerosis: do microRNAs and Vitamin D help the brain to keep immune cells out? (GAVRILOVIC_U14NRP)

29 November 2013. This studentship is available for a 1 October 2014 start.

Supervisory Team:
Primary: Dr Jelena Gavrilovic (UEA)

Co-supervisors: Martin Lee (Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital); Mohammad Hajihosseini (UEA); Matt Gage (UEA)

The Project:

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition where the body’s own immune system (which normally fights infection) attacks the body’s nerves with the result that for many of those affected there is a major loss of mobility. Vitamin D levels have been shown to be lower in people with MS so Vitamin D supplements can be recommended.

It is not certain, however, how and why Vitamin D might play a role although we do know that Vitamin D can control the production of microRNAs in other diseases. We and others have found that expression of microRNAs changes in MS which may potentially change the way the “blood brain barrier” (composed of endothelial cells) keeps cells from the immune system out of the brain. Using cellular, biochemical and molecular approaches the student will investigate whether Vitamin D changes the way endothelial cells interact with each other to form a blood brain barrier-equivalent in a cell culture model. Immune cells from healthy volunteers will be tested for their ability to get through this “blood brain barrier” when microRNA mimics or inhibitors are transfected into the endothelial cells or the immune cells.

Alongside this work the student will take a bioinformatics approach to compare modulation of gene expression (in a microarray) by MS relevant microRNAs with genes already known to be changed by Vitamin D in immune cells. Following pathway analysis selected changing genes will be tested back on the blood brain barrier model system. Overall this research will lead to a better understanding of how the blood brain barrier works and whether microRNAs have a role, which could lead to new drug therapies for MS.

In this inter-disciplinary project the student will benefit from interactions with co-supervisors including a Consultant Neurologist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (where over 2000 MS patients are seen annually), a Developmental Neurobiologist and an Evolutionary biologist with interests in human disease. The student will receive training in mammalian cell culture; flow cytometry; bio-imaging (including confocal microscopy); qRT-PCR; gene silencing; quantitative data analysis; bioinformatics.

Entry Requirements:

2:1 or 2:2 plus Masters. English Language – IELTS 6.5 overall with 6 in each category. 

Funding will cover a stipend and tuition fees up to UK and EU level, and is available for a maximum of 4 years. The current stipend for 2013/14 is £13,726 per annum. International students are eligible for the funding but will need to find their own support to cover the extra tuition fees charged to overseas students.

Making Your Application: Please apply via the University’s online application system.   To discuss the application process or particular projects, please contact the: Admissions Office, or telephone +44 (0)1603 591709.

Additional Information:

This project has been shortlisted for a Norwich Research Park Studentship. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed as part of the Studentship Competition. The interview dates will be the 14th and 15th January 2014.

All students recruited onto this programme will be required to undertake a three months internship during the second or third year of their study. The internship will offer exciting and invaluable experience of work in an area outside of research, and full support and advice will be provided by a professional team from the UEA.

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