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Investigating the impact of paternal obesity on the brain structure and behaviour of the offspring.

   Biomedical and Life Sciences

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  Dr C Hawkes, Dr Victorio Bambini Junior, Dr N Dawson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Are you a budding neuroscientist who loves all things brain related? We are looking for an enthusiastic, highly motivated student to join our neuroscience team to investigate the impact of parental obesity on the structure and function of the offspring brain. Emerging research indicates that paternal obesity plays a significant role in offspring health. Children born to obese fathers are at greater risk of developing autism spectrum disorder and having lower IQ. However, there is still very little information about the long-term impact of parental obesity on brain structure or cognitive performance of adult and aged offspring. In addition, while there is some evidence that epigenetic markers contained within sperm, particularly those related to non-coding RNAs (ncRNA), mediate these intergenerational effects, much more information is needed to understand how this influences the offspring brain.   

The project will use a rodent model of diet-induced paternal obesity to test the hypothesis that offspring born to obese fathers have abnormal brain structure and poorer behavioural and cognitive function across the life course compared to offspring of lean fathers. It will address 3 main aims: 

  1. Assess the impact of paternal obesity on behaviour (e.g., anxiety, social interaction) and cognitive function (e.g. spatial and working memory) of adolescent, adult and aged male and female offspring; 
  2. Determine the neuronal activity and brain structure in adolescent and aged offspring born to lean and obese fathers; 
  3. Determine the expression of brain-related ncRNA in fathers’ sperm and offspring brain. 

Techniques will involve behavioural testing and a range of cellular and molecular biology techniques, such as immunocytochemistry, Western blotting and qPCR. You should have a degree or equivalent in neuroscience or a related biological sciences discipline. Candidates should also demonstrate evidence of being able to complete tasks on time, effectively troubleshoot research problems and work independently. Previous experience with rodents and having a Home Office personal licence would be advantageous but is not required. 

The PhD Project is competition funded by the Faculty of Medicine under the supervision of Drs. Cheryl Hawkes, Victorio Bambini Junior and Neil Dawson in the Division of Biomedical and Life Sciences (BLS) at Lancaster University, UK. Research areas within BLS include infectious diseases, parasitology, neurodegeneration, mental health, ageing, immunology and cancer biology. In addition, BLS has a thriving postgraduate community with a range of opportunities for skills development including seminar presentation and help with running undergraduate lab practicals. 

Lancaster University has a world-class reputation as a centre for excellence in teaching and research. It is highly ranked as 14th in the UK according to the Guardian University Guide 2023. It was awarded the Times International University of the Year in 2020 and University of the Year in 2018. The University’s campus is located in 560 acres of beautiful parkland on the edge of the small but vibrant city of Lancaster. 

Informal enquiries are welcomed. Please contact Dr Cheryl Hawkes ([Email Address Removed]) 

Application process: Applications should be made in writing to the lead supervisor, Dr Cheryl Hawkes ([Email Address Removed]). You MUST include the following: 

1.     CV (max 2 A4 sides), including details of two academic references 

2.     A cover letter outlining your qualifications and interest in the studentship (max 2 A4 sides) 

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