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Dunhill Medical Trust PhD studentships

Dunhill Medical Trust PhD studentships

Research theme: ‘Acute illness, delirium and long-term cognitive decline in later life: causes and consequences’

We are delighted to offer 5 fully-funded 4-year PhD studentships supported by the Dunhill Medical Trust. Students will form a cohort who will have some shared interdisciplinary training alongside their research project.

Though there is funding for 5 studentships, applicants will have the opportunity to choose from 12 PhD projects, selecting one preferred option with up to two further choices. Applicants will apply to the programme, and shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by panels representing the topic areas involved. Successful candidates will then have the opportunity to take up their choice of PhD or one of the alternatives they selected.

Background to the programme

In older people acute illness commonly triggers delirium, an acute-onset, often reversible syndrome of severe decline in mental functioning [1]. Delirium affects 25% of hospitalised older people. It is linked to multiple short-term adverse outcomes including 3-fold 30-day mortality. As well as showing severe cognitive deficits, people with delirium are often highly distressed and can experience terrifying hallucinations.

Beyond these early adverse outcomes, delirium is associated with acceleration of existing dementia and a greater than 8-fold increased risk of future dementia. Neuroscience studies have discovered body-brain links that may play a role in cognitive decline following acute illness [1]. For example, acute peripheral inflammatory signals from diverse sources (infection, surgery, injury) can through several pathways trigger acutely altered behaviour, neuroinflammation and neural injury.

These findings show that acute illness is a common determinant of both acute brain injury (commonly manifesting as delirium), and dementia. Yet this is a strikingly under-researched area in both clinical and basic science research. Better understanding of the relationships between acute illness and cognitive decline is a rapidly growing and exciting area of medical science because it provides a new avenue to improve the long-term cognitive health of older people. Notably, a recent international interdisciplinary consensus statement concluded that ‘… addressing delirium prevention and treatment represents an unparalleled opportunity to make potentially a meaningful impact on the global dementia burden.’ [2]

There are no known effective treatments for delirium, or more broadly neuroprotective treatments in the context of acute illness. There is an urgent need for interdisciplinary research capacity in this area to develop better understanding of prognosis and the development of new treatments. These five 5 four-year PhD studentships across the translational spectrum ranging from clinical outcomes to lab-based neuroscience addresses this important emerging area of work.


[1] Wilson JE. Delirium. Nat Rev Dis Primers 6;90;doi:10.1038/s41572-020-00223-4 (2020).

[2] Khachaturian AS. International Drive to Illuminate Delirium: A developing public health blueprint for action. Alzheimer's and Dementia 16;711-725;doi:10.1002/alz.12075 (2020).

Details of the projects

5 of the 12 PhD options are only available to UK-based students eligible for UK funding (see below). For the other 7 PhDs candidates from the UK and outside of the UK are eligible. Stipends are offered at standard UKRI rates, except those only offered to UK students which have a stipend of £16,748, with a small annual increment.

Full information on the available projects can be found on FindaPhD via the following links:

Open to UK and non-UK students

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Open to UK students

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