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Investigating the ability of circadian clocks to mitigate degeneration of the back of the eye

   Department of Eye and Vision Science

About the Project

Circadian clocks are present in most tissues and cells throughout the body, and have a crucial role in health and disease. Removal of clock factors can cause dysfunction. Clock factors are essential for ocular health and have a range of roles, from regulating inflammation to wound healing

Sight-threatening eye diseases such as diabetes and age-related macular degeneration affect the retina and its underlying retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). They both exhibit behaviour dependent on the master clock in the brain but also independent, related to light exposure and local clocks in the eye. The circadian rhythmicity of these tissues is critical for photoreceptor support and retinal function.

Understanding how the retina and RPE are affected by time-of-day is important in the study of a number of diseases of the back of the eye. Circadian rhythms regulate antioxidant levels in the body and influence the most optimal times of drug treatment. Both genetic and environmental clock disruptions (e.g. mutations, ageing, shift work) are associated with development of macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

We seek a student to explore circadian behaviour and entraining factors in these cells to aid in the design of future chrono-therapeutic interventional studies for the treatment of age-related eye diseases. We have existing projects relating to circadian clocks, drug delivery to the eye and ocular light therapy, which would both support and benefit from this studentship.

This project would be suitable for a motivated student with a strong interest in cell biology and its applications in disease. You will undertake experiments involving cell culture, qRT-PCR, western blotting, promoter activity assays, microscopy, bioluminescence imaging of biological rhythms in real time and other state-of-the-art laboratory techniques (e.g. RNAseq or proteomics profiling). You will have strong interactions with clinical colleagues in St Paul’s Eye Unit, ensuring that the project maintains clinical relevance. 

You would be supervised by a team from the Departments of Eye and Vision Science (Drs Kearns, Sheridan and Levis) and Musculoskeletal Biology (Dr Pekovic-Vaughan) at the Institute of Life Course and Medical Sciences. They have wide-ranging expertise and will provide training and support in all relevant laboratory and analysis techniques.

For any enquires about the opportunity or to enquire about the application process, please contact Dr Victoria Kearns;

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses as well as research costs of around £10,000 per year. There is NO funding attached to this project. Details of costs can be found on the University website.


Yang et al, Nature Communications 2017 30 (8):14287.
Rogers et al Stem Cells International 2017 2017:2057168.
Pekovic-Vaughan et al. Genes and Development 2014 28 (6): 548-60.
Eyre, et al, Experimental Eye Research 2020 201:108293
Nian et al., Journal Of Tissue Engineering And Regenerative Medicine 2020, 15(1), 49-62.

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