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Epigenetic profiling to monitor the response to xenobiotic exposure in lung tissue in vitro models

College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

, Tuesday, October 20, 2020 Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

4 year PhD scholarship, Industrial CASE CSV. Partners: University of Edinburgh and Unilever (Dr Iris Muller, Unilever)

Epigenetic modifications of the histones and DNA in the cell nucleus are essential for cell function. These epigenetic marks help to set up active and repressive chromatin states, which are thought to propagate gene activity patterns in cell lineages but also regulate overall nuclear architecture and chromosome function. Epigenetic profiles associated with transcription, DNA and histone modifications are known to alter in response to chemical challenge of target tissues and are disrupted during disease.
Our project aims to establish a human relevant in vitro system to study lung tissue integrity and fibrosis and identify early epigenetics changes in combination with gene expression changes in response to occupational and environmental agents, pharmaceuticals and cosmetic compounds.
The project objectives are:
1. To identify ‘best’ available human lung cell models for the study and establish a cell system for defined exposure scenarios.
2. Perform systematic measurements of epigenetic and transcriptomic changes occurring in response to several chemical-exposure scenarios.
3. Undertake advanced data analysis and comparison to publicly available human in vivo data sets to establish modes of action and dose responses.
This PhD project involves an academic partner (University of Edinburgh) and industrial partner (Unilever) combining expertise in epigenetics processes and advanced imaging to establish 3Rs compatible in vitro models, to reveal context-dependent epigenetic signalling mechanisms and pathways acting in exposed lung tissue models. The research outcomes will provide more knowledge on the role of epigenetics in lung tissue cell biology and its response to chemical challenges, which will lead to improved testing and safety applications in bioscience, pharmaceutical testing and biomedicine. The studentship includes a 3-month placement at Unilever to engage with Industrial partners.
Background information:
Unilever – BBSRC CASE PhD studentship
4-year PhD programme with financial support for 4 years
Interdisciplinary scientific topic
Supervision by experienced postgraduate mentors and scientists and tailored study plan
State-of-the-art research infrastructure and research excellence environment
National mobility and internship
International and friendly postgraduate community
Courses to develop transferable postgraduate skills
Projected Start date: March 2021
Candidate profile
The candidate shall possess:
BSc or MSc or a corresponding University degree in a relevant discipline;
A solid background in at least one of the following fields of toxicology, cell biology, genomics, bioinformatics and epigenetics
Some knowledge of statistical methods;
Good numeracy and computer literacy;
Good communication skills and proficiency in English.
Discussion about the research topic with the supervisor is strongly advised before the formal application – please contact Prof Richard Meehan ( ) or Dr Iris Muller ( ) for more information.
Application and selection process
For a consultation with the supervisor, candidates should submit the application, including
(i) curriculum vitae;
(ii) motivation letter;
(iii) contacts of three academic persons who might provide references.
The application shall be submitted by email to
The deadline for applications is on 20 October 2020. A review of applications will run as they are received and until the position is filled. Short-listed applicants will be invited for personal or video interviews.
Formal application to the PhD programme at the University of Edinburgh will require further documentation and formalities from the candidates, which will be processed through an electronic application system. The successful candidate will receive detailed instructions.

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