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BBSRC SWBio DTP studentship: Aging before birth: identifying early-life influences on telomeres and the epigenetic clock

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 02, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Being born biologically “aged” may contribute to higher risk of disease later in life. Importantly, premature placental aging has been suggested as a mechanism contributing to fetal growth restriction and an increased the risk of a stillbirth. Evidence to support accelerated aging in utero comes from studies of two biomarkers of aging – telomere length and DNA methylation. Shortened telomeres have been reported in diabetic pregnancies, growth‐restricted fetuses and pregnancies ending in still birth. DNA methylation age acceleration has been linked to prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke and lower socioeconomic status, factors also linked to fetal growth restriction and poor outcomes for children. These data support a modifiable aging process that start before we are born but little is known about maternal lifestyle factors that protect against premature aging.

This study will novelly explore the hypothesis that healthier lifestyles in pregnancy protect against the accelerated aging associated with exposure to prenatal adversity. Precision biomolecular analysis of telomeres and DNA methylation in placenta and cord blood will be combined with the analysis of biosocial and biological data from the Grown in Wales Study to identify factors modifying these biomarkers of aging. Grown in Wales is a data rich longitudinal cohort study of pregnancy-related mood disorders with data on maternal lifestyle in pregnancy including dietary data, alongside measurements of free fatty acids (FFAs) present in the mother’s blood. There is a rich body of literature that suggests some FFA protect against aging in adults while other FFAs are associated with inflammation which could accelerate aging. This component is therefore particularly unique and relevant to the study.

Telomere length will be measured using a technique developed by Prof Duncan Baird called Single Telomere Length Analysis (STELA) which provide high-resolution single molecule data. DNA methylation age will be determined from Illumina Infinium MethylationEPIC BeadChip array data. The student will additionally receive extensive training in multivariate statistics and analysis of longitudinal data through formal courses and supervision, and undertake a secondment to Bristol University to train in epigenetic epidemiology.

While many studies report associations between biomarkers of aging and pregnancy complications, this will be the first study to explore whether modifiable lifestyle factors such a maternal diet influence biomarkers of placental aging and, most importantly, obtain evidence that healthy diets, exercise or omega 3 protect against premature placental aging.


This studentship is available to UK and EU nationals who have established UK residency (EU nationals must have ordinarily lived in the UK throughout the three years preceding the start of the studentship). Please refer to the DTP eligibility webpage for more details:
Cardiff University will be able to award up to one fully funded four-year studentship for EU students who do not meet the residency requirements.

Entry requirements

Please refer to the DTP eligibility webpage for academic entry requirements:
If English is not your first language, you will need to achieve an IELTS score of 6.5 with 6.5 in all skills.

How to apply

Make your application to Cardiff University:
Please ensure that your application includes:
Two references. Neither of the referees should be part of the supervisory team.
Academic transcripts / degree certificate(s)
Personal statement. Please include supporting evidence for your Maths background.
Curriculum Vitae (CV)
English language certificates (where applicable)
Please refer to the DTP webpage for information about the selection process:

Applications must be submitted by midnight on Monday 2nd December 2019.

Funding Notes

This studentship will provide a stipend for 4 years in line with UK Research and Innovation (Research Council) rates (£15,009 in 2019/20), payment of university tuition fees, and a Research and Training and Support Grant (RTSG) to support the project.

How good is research at Cardiff University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 54.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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