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MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership: Using vision as a window into Parkinson’s Disease

   MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership

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  Dr R West, Prof A Wade, Dr M Burke  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Whilst commonly considered to be a motor disorder, Parkinson’s Disease is also characterised by changes in vision. Using methods derived from human vision science, we have shown that mutations known to cause early onset Parkinson’s disease result in hyperexcitability in the Drosophila (fruit fly) visual system. This, in turn, leads to excitotoxicity and vision loss as the flies age. Translating this methodology back to humans, our preliminary findings show that the same changes in the visual system are observed in Parkinson’s patients. We therefore propose that vision may provide a reliable biomarker that can be used to diagnose and monitor progression of Parkinson’s disease. This interdisciplinary, translational project will combine animal (Drosophila) models for drug discovery screens and dissecting the molecular mechanisms underpinning disease with the study of human participants to optimise and translate this protocol for use as a clinical diagnostic tool. You will be based in the Sheffield Institute for translational neuroscience (SITraN) a vibrant interdisciplinary research institute bringing together both basic researchers and clinicians under one roof. Working with Dr Ryan West (SITraN), an expert in Drosophila models of neurodegeneration, you will identify novel compounds that alleviate Parkinson’s disease phenotypes, including visual dysfunction, in Drosophila models. You will also utilise the advanced genetic toolbox of Drosophila to dissect the molecular mechanisms underpinning disease. Working with Professor Alex Wade (York) at the York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC), you will translate the assays used in Drosophila into robust neuroimaging measurements (fMRI/MEG/EEG/fNIRS) that can be used to objectively assess the health of the human visual system with a particular focus on ‘early’ visual processing stages: the extraction of luminance, colour and contrast. Once these assays are established, you will work with Dr Melanie Burke (Leeds) in the Brain and Behaviour Lab to develop clinically appropriate versions of these assays in human participants, using brain imaging (fNIRS) and eye movement measures to establish their sensitivity to Parkinson’s disease. 

For informal enquiries contact Dr Ryan West ([Email Address Removed]) (https://sitran.org/people/west/)

SITraN website: https://sitran.org/

York NeuroImaging Centre (YNiC): https://www.york.ac.uk/psychology/research/york-neuroimaging-centre/

Professor Alex Wade: https://www.york.ac.uk/psychology/staff/academicstaff/alex-wade/

Dr Melanie Burke: https://medicinehealth.leeds.ac.uk/psychology/staff/180/dr-melanie-burke

Benefits of being in the DiMeN DTP:

This project is part of the Discovery Medicine North Doctoral Training Partnership (DiMeN DTP), a diverse community of PhD students across the North of England researching the major health problems facing the world today. Our partner institutions (Universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and Sheffield) are internationally recognised as centres of research excellence and can offer you access to state-of the-art facilities to deliver high impact research.

We are very proud of our student-centred ethos and committed to supporting you throughout your PhD. As part of the DTP, we offer bespoke training in key skills sought after in early career researchers, as well as opportunities to broaden your career horizons in a range of non-academic sectors.

Being funded by the MRC means you can access additional funding for research placements, international training opportunities or internships in science policy, science communication and beyond. See how our current DiMeN students have benefited from this funding here: https://www.dimen.org.uk/blog

Further information on the programme and how to apply can be found on our website:


Funding Notes

Studentships are fully funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) for 4yrs. Funding will cover tuition fees, stipend and project costs. We also aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of full studentships to international applicants. Please read additional guidance here: https://www.dimen.org.uk/eligibility-criteria
Studentships commence: 1st October 2023
Good luck!


West, RJH., Elliott, C. & Wade, AR. Classification of Parkinson’s Disease Genotypes in Drosophila Using Spatiotemporal Profiling of Vision. Sci Rep 5, 16933 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep16933
Himmelberg MM, West RJH, Elliott CJH, Wade AR. Abnormal visual gain control and excitotoxicity in early-onset Parkinson's disease Drosophila models. J Neurophysiol. 2018 Mar 1;119(3):957-970. doi: 10.1152/jn.00681.2017. Epub 2017 Nov 15.
Himmelberg MM, West RJH, Wade AR, Elliott CJH. A perceptive plus in Parkinson's disease. Mov Disord. 2018 Feb;33(2):248. doi: 10.1002/mds.27240. Epub 2018 Jan 14.
Price, Michael J., et al. "Abnormalities in color vision and contrast sensitivity in Parkinson's disease." Neurology 42.4 (1992): 887-887.
Langheinrich T, Tebartz Van Elst L, Lagrèze WA, et al. Visual contrast response functions in Parkinson's disease: evidence from electroretinograms, visually evoked potentials and psychophysics. Clin. Neurophysiol 2000;111:66–74.
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