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  Animal free alternatives to the study of nutrition in pregnancy

   Hull York Medical School

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  Dr R Sturmey  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

About the Project

It’s never been more exciting or more important to study how the early mammalian embryo is formed. While we know lots about embryo development, we know surprisingly little about how development occurs within the body – and that which we do know has relied heavily on research using animals. However, we now have developed a cutting edge model of the reproductive environment that has no reliance on animal tissue. We now want to find you, the next expert in early development to undertake a fully-funded project that will examine how the female tract modulates mammalian embryo development, whilst reducing the reliance on animals in research. The project will be supported by a supervisory team with expertise in embryo development, cell biology and transcriptomics (Sturmey, Ruane, Stevens).

The project will model how the very first stages of embryonic development, from fertilisation through to implantation can be affected by nutritional changes in the reproductive tract. However, this important question will be tackled in a unique way, by validating methods to study nutrition in pregnancy without using animal models. We can say with some confidence that the conditions in which fertilisation and early development occurs can influence lifelong health, but this knowledge has been built on data generated from large numbers of studies using mice as a model species. The use of animal models has been unavoidable to date, however we have advanced a new organoid-based model of the female reproductive tract which may enable studies of the interaction between diet and early development to be carried out in vitro; vastly reducing the reliance on animal models. In this project, you will undertake vital studies on the physiology of our models of the female reproductive tract using advanced biochemical and transcriptomic analyses. Once completed, you will assess how the delivery of key nutrients by female reproductive tract is modified by conditions carefully designed to mimic poor diets. Finally, you will measure the impact of these modifications on early embryo physiology, using established biochemical and cell-based assays. 

By the end of your PhD, you will have made significant discoveries in the field of periconceptual physiology and embryo development whilst advancing a critical new resource that will reduce the reliance on animals for such research. You will graduate with extremely strong laboratory skills and have established skill sets in analysis of transcriptomic ‘big data’ sets. Furthermore, you will develop a number of transferrable skills and clear understanding of how these can be applied to advance our understanding of early development.

 For informal inquiries, please contact Roger Sturmey [Email Address Removed])

Location and Research Culture

The project will take place jointly between the Biomedical Institute for Multimorbidity at the Hull York Medical School AND the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at the University of Manchester. 

The Hull York Medical School is a unique partnership bringing together the expertise of both the Universities of Hull and York and offering a thriving environment in which to conduct world-leading research. Strong partnerships with NHS Trusts and community health organisations offer a wide clinical base that fosters translation of biomedical research to improve health.

The Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at Manchester is a world leading centre for the study of pregnancy and still birth. It hosts the Tommy’s Research Centre, established in 2001 and committed to investigating still birth and associated pregnancy complications.

You will be part of a vibrant post-graduate community within the medical school but also interacting with students from other PhD Programmes at the Hull York Medical School and at the University of Manchester. You will have access to the University of York Biosciences Technology Facility, allowing the use of cutting-edge equipment to support the research as needed for the project (e.g. imaging, bioinformatics etc.) You will be supported by a thesis advisory panel, and will follow a training programme on transferable and research skills.

Qualification Required

In order to qualify for this scholarship you will require an undergraduate degree with at least a 2.1, or equivalent, in a relevant subject. English Language IELTS 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component.

How to Apply

All applications MUST BE submitted to Hull York Medical School via the online application method choosing option PhD in Medical Sciences 2024 September/October, full time or part time:

The deadline for applications is the 26 April 2024

In order for the Panel to get a sense of your academic background, commitment and interest, you are required to complete the application form in full and provide a research proposal/outline of academic interest. Research proposals and personal statements may be used in selecting applicants for interview. If you have any queries on how to apply please email [Email Address Removed].

Please note that this is a student scholarship. If you will be employed by HYMS (e.g. on a fixed or short-term contract) for the duration of your study, you will not be eligible to receive the student scholarship as a member of HYMS staff. 


We hope to interview on 1st May 2024, with the project starting in Autumn Applicants who are shortlisted for interview will be contacted via email. If you are not invited for the interview, it means that your application has not been successful. Please note that we do not offer feedback to applicants who are not invited to the interview.

Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

Full NC3Rs scholarship including fees, stipend at UKRI rate and research costs.

Where will I study?

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