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Genetic and Epigenetic Mechanisms Linking Early-Life-Stress to Psycho-Cardio-Metabolic Multi-Morbidity

Project Description

The University of Bath (Department of Psychology) is pleased to offer two PhD projects starting in January 2020, supervised by Dr Esther Walton, Dr Graeme Fairchild, and Professor Andrew Ward (University of Bath). These projects are funded as part of the Horizon2020 scheme supported by the European Commission


The World Health Organisation has identified mental disorders, cardiovascular disease and diabetes among its leading non-communicable diseases. Recent research has also increasingly suggested that many mental and physical diseases find their developmental origin in the accumulated effects of stress early in life, both pre- and postnatally.
In addition to their separate complexity, existing research has shown important comorbid patterns linking these diseases. However, the specific causative mechanisms leading to psycho-cardio-metabolic multi-morbidity are not well understood, which does not yet permit the development of coordinated preventive and therapeutic measures.


The successful applicant will investigate the hypothesis that early-life stress (e.g. childhood maltreatment), a risk factor for depressive, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders individually, is a cause of multi-morbidity between these conditions.

As part of the first PhD post, the applicant will identify potential epigenetic, inflammatory, and neuroendocrine mediators of early-life stress and disease associations. Moderation analyses will be conducted to identify lifestyle factors (i.e. diet, sleep, exercise, medication use, smoking, alcohol and substance use) that either exacerbate or dampen the effect of early-life stress on biological makers and comorbid outcomes.

In the second PhD position, the applicant will apply advanced causal inference techniques such as Mendelian Randomization to gain deeper insight into whether early-life stress is a causal risk factor for psycho-cardio-metabolic multi-morbidity, and to what extent biological factors point towards causal mediating mechanisms.

Both applicants will work closely together and collaborate with several large-scale international studies, such as ALSPAC, with genome-wide and longitudinal epigenetic and other biological data available.


The applicant will generate findings that will enable us to estimate the societal and economic burden across the lifespan and aid identify biological targets to reduce rates of multi-morbidity for further investigations.

Career Development opportunities:

The applicant will be part of an international consortium comprising 13 high-profile research institutes in eight European countries providing an excellent international research network for training and future career opportunities.
This studentship includes travel to yearly consortium meetings and international conferences as well as funds for training courses.


Applications are invited from excellent candidates with a First or Upper Second Class degree and/or Master’s level and/or equivalent professional practice in psychology, genetics, epidemiology, computer science, or related areas. Relevant research experience and programming knowledge in R would be advantageous

Funding Notes

There are two studentships available associated with this project, funded by the European Commission, each for 4 years of full time study. The studentships will pay an elevated annual stipend of £19,919 (2019/2020 rate) to cover living expenses and the cost tuition fees. There will also be additional funding available to cover training costs.

How good is research at University of Bath in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 54.20

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

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