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Modulating inflammatory response to dietary proteins in non-coeliac wheat sensitivity (ref: RDF22/HLS/APP/ZEVALLOS)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr Victor Zevallos, Dr I Brownlee  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Non-coeliac wheat sensitivity (NCWS) is the most common wheat-related disorder, characterised by gastrointestinal and/or extra-intestinal symptoms in the absence of coeliac disease and wheat allergy (Fasano et al. Gastroenterology 2015). NCWS patients experience relief from symptoms after following a gluten-free diet. However, this beneficial effect could result from reduced intake of wheat and other dietary compounds rather than gluten. For instance, we have shown that nongluten wheat proteins can activate the innate immune system (Zevallos et al. Gastroenterology 2017) and there is evidence suggesting that dietary proteins from other sources (e.g. soya, milk) have anti-inflammatory and gastrointestinal protective roles (Zoghbi et al. Am J Phys Gastr Liv Phys 2005).

The complexity of the human diet and limited information from feeding studies precludes identification and evaluation of pro/anti-inflammatory interactions between digested dietary proteins. Therefore, this project will assess these interactions using in vitro (cell and organ culture) and in vivo (human feeding study) models with defined dietary proteins from staple foods to understand potential cellular and pathophysiological mechanisms underlying these processes. This will provide stronger evidence-based dietary recommendations to ameliorate intestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms in NCWS patients.

Our main hypothesis is that inflammation induced by dietary wheat proteins can be reduced by other dietary proteins (e.g. soya, milk) via several unexplored mechanisms. The specific objectives of this project are:

1)          Identification of dietary proteins that retain biological activity using bio cellular assays.

2)          Evaluation of immunomodulatory effects of these proteins on gastrointestinal inflammation using organ culture models.

3)          In-vivo evaluation of gastrointestinal and inflammatory effects of selected dietary proteins on individuals with NCWS.

This multidisciplinary project will allow a suitable candidate to gain valuable training experience and key research skills to develop a successful career in an emerging research field, facilitating the interaction with collaborators in the UK and Europe and promoting the development of evidence-based dietary recommendations for intestinal and extra-intestinal disorders. Furthermore, this project aligns well with Northumbria University’s Vision 2030, focusing on world class key research areas (nutrition and biomedical sciences) to drive academic excellence, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and impact.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

•       Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non- UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

•       Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

•       Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: All applications must include a covering letter (up to 1000 words maximum) including why you are interested in this PhD, a summary of the relevant experience you can bring to this project and of your understanding of this subject area with relevant references (beyond the information already provided in the advert). Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Victor Zevallos ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes ( which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Caminero A*, McCarville JL*, Zevallos VF*, et al. (2019). Lactobacilli Degrade Wheat Amylase Trypsin Inhibitors to Reduce Intestinal Dysfunction Induced by Immunogenic Wheat Proteins. Gastroenterology. 156(8):2266-2280. *Equal contribution.

Zevallos VF, Raker V, Tenzer S, et al. (2017). Nutritional Wheat Amylase-Trypsin Inhibitors Promote Intestinal Inflammation via Activation of Myeloid Cells. Gastroenterology. 152 (5):1100- 1113.

Houghton D, Wilcox M, Brownlee I, Chater P, Seal C, Pearson J. (2019). Acceptability of alginate enriched bread and its effect on fat digestion in humans. Food Hydrocolloids.

Chater PI, Wilcox MD, Brownlee IA, Pearson JP.( 2015). Alginate as a protease inhibitor in vitro and in a model gut system; Selective inhibition of pepsin but not trypsin. Carbohydrate Polymers. 131,142-151 (10).
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