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FULLY FUNDED PHD: Exploring the pathways of cell-cell interaction between macrophages and fibroblast, in health and rheumatological disease

College of Medicine, Veterinary and Life Sciences

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Dr Thomas Otto , Dr M Kurowska-Stolarska , Prof Mark Coles , Dr Stefano Alivernini No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


Applications are invited for a four-year full time PhD studentship within The Research into Inflammatory Arthritis Centre Versus Arthritis (RACE), starting October 2021.

Recent advances in single cell transcriptomics (scRNA) allow us to define gene expression in a single cell and give us potential insight into how the neighbour cells interact.

In this computation/bioinformatics PhD the student will aim to model the interactions between synovial macrophages and fibroblasts to find out key molecules involved in joints development, homeostasis and development of pathologies. The identified pathways will be confirmed using multiplex imaging/RNAscope of synovial tissues and synovial organoids.

Our recent research revealed that inflammation and disease resolution in patients with rheumatoid arthritis stay is driven by the communication between specific subtypes of inflammatory or protective macrophages and fibroblasts.

In this project, we want to understand the molecules involved in these processes and extend the study to other form of arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis that also involves skin. We will compare the findings uncovered in arthritis joints to the cell interactions in embryonic and adult healthy joints to pinpoint the pathogenic communication in patients with autoimmune diseases.

The core goal of this project is, in general, to develop novel computation models to capture this communication at the different development stages. The interpretation of the computation model will reveal changes of communication due to disease over time. To validate our finding, we will test the most promising pathways from the communication network in the laboratory with the aim to understand if there could be drug targets or markers for disease outcome.

The student will learn several computational around scRNA-Seq with the aim to generate novel algorithm for cell-cell interaction and should therefore have a solid computational/bioinformatics background with an interest in immunology. There is the opportunity to learn laboratory technics.

There will be a good day-to-day support from the Otto (Computational) and Kurowska-Stolarska lab (Immunological). Dr Alivernini will help to link the computational data to the clinical outcome. Part of the PhD (mining the cell interactions in embryonic joints and multiplex imaging/RNAscope) is a 6-9 months stay at The Kennedy Institute Of Rheumatology at the University of Oxford with Prof Mark Cole.

This project is part of RACE, which is a collaboration between the Universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle and Oxford, with funding and support from Versus Arthritis. The programme capitalises on the expertise of the contributing academic institutions, and offers an outstanding opportunity for students to undertake excellent project-based research training within world-class research environments.

There are others available across the collaborating Institutes, please see:

Funding Notes

For UK students only at the moment.

However, for EU students, we are discussing with the funder, Versus Arthritis, about whether it will follow UKRI decisions regarding allowing institutions and students to pay the difference between Home and International fees.

Applicants should have obtained, or expect to obtain a 2:1 or 1st Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. Support includes an annual stipend at RCUK rates for 4 years, PhD registration fees at UK student rate, research expenses and travel costs. (Please note issue around EU eligibility is discussed above).

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