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Project at University of Surrey: Beyond bone health: a multidisciplinary approach to define the functional effects of vitamin D on genomic stability


   FoodBioSystems DTP

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  Dr R Elliott, Dr M Tindall, Dr LB Meira  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project description:

This exciting collaborative project offers the opportunity for you to develop multidisciplinary skills in research studying a novel mechanism of action of vitamin D in human health. You will work under the supervision of a team of leading scientists at both the University of Surrey and the University of Reading and develop expertise in human nutrition, molecular and cellular biology, and mathematical modelling of biological systems.

Vitamin D deficiency is a global public health concern. In the UK, 13-21% of people aged 11 to 64 are vitamin D deficient as assessed based on the minimum vitamin D status required for bone heath. The situation is similar or worse in many other countries. Furthermore, higher vitamin D status may be necessary to reap the full health benefits of its many other biological effects. However, the mechanisms by which vitamin D exerts these other effects and the levels of vitamin D in the body needed to fully activate these processes are not fully understood.

This project will focus on one such biological activity; the capacity of vitamin D to help protect cellular DNA. This is important for health because accumulation of DNA damage is associated with the aging process and increased cancer risk, as well as increased risk of other non-communicable diseases. The capacity of vitamin D to improve the protection of cellular DNA has been demonstrated in skin cells in culture and in skin in situ. This observation suggests vitamin D may serve a central function in a protective feedback loop because most vitamin D in humans is synthesized in skin via the action of UV light from the sun. However, UV also damages cell components, including DNA. Therefore, high vitamin D levels in skin may act as a signal of UV exposure, triggering adaptations to better protect the cells from the damaging effects of the UV [1]. Importantly, vitamin D also protects skin cells against other sources of damage such as nitrosative and oxidative stress [2]. Exactly how this protection is achieved, and whether it is unique to skin cells, is unknown as is whether the protection could be achieved by increased dietary vitamin D intake without the inherent risks of UV light exposure.

We hypothesize vitamin D protects against DNA damage in skin and other tissues by modulating cell proliferation/cycling and enhancing DNA repair. In this project, you will test this hypothesis using a multidisciplinary strategy to gain new insights into the functional effects of vitamin D on genomic stability in cells in culture and assessing the relevance of those findings in human populations by taking advantage of a sample bank available from a large vitamin D supplementation study.

The Universities of Surrey and Reading provide a vibrant, interdisciplinary research environment, with access to state-of-the-art facilities. We see our postgraduate researchers as an integral part of our research community, collaborating and innovating together with academics at all levels. We want the most talented researchers from diverse backgrounds to join us, bringing new ideas and perspectives. We will help you make the most of your potential, removing barriers where we can and supporting you with dedicated career guidance. We offer sector-leading researcher development training and mentoring, and dedicated employability support.

Training opportunities:

You will be provided with comprehensive training in all relevant nutritional, cellular, molecular, and mathematical techniques. You will develop skills in cell culture, real-time cell proliferation and apoptosis analysis, flow cytometry, DNA damage and repair analyses [3,4]. You will also learn to develop mathematical models that shed new light on the biological effects of vitamin D observed in your cell experiments. You will learn about the ethical and legal frameworks for research involving human participants, gain first-hand experience working with human study participants, and learn techniques for isolation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

Depending on your background, you can opt to take taught courses, delivered by the host Universities, to strengthen your understanding key areas of the proposed project, including the biology and/or the mathematics. 

You will benefit from access to a wide range of training courses, workshops, mentoring and coaching, regular research seminars/events as well as plentiful opportunities to present and discuss your research within the two Universities, across the DTP and at conferences. You will also complete a 3-month professional internship, potentially with one of our commercial or non-governmental partners, giving you the opportunity to gain a broader perspective on the contribution of research to the agri-food sector.

 Student profile:

Applicants should hold a minimum of a BSc honours degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a relevant Life Science subject, have a particular interest in cellular/molecular biology and nutrition and be confident and competent in mathematics to at least A level standard. We will also consider graduates in relevant Physical Sciences who have a good understanding of the concepts for the mathematical modelling elements of this project and who can also demonstrate a good understanding of biology, to at least A level standard, as well as particular enthusiasm to learn more about human biology and nutrition.  

Application Information

Full details on how to apply at https://research.reading.ac.uk/foodbiosystems/apply-for-a-foodbiosystems-phd/for-phd-students-2/

Application by online form only. Do not send CVs, they will not be looked at.


Funding Notes

FoodBioSystems DTP studentships are predominantly open to students with established UK residency. Although international students (including EU countries) can apply, due to funding rules no more than 30% of the projects can be allocated to international students. The funding will include a tax free stipend and support for tuition fees at the standard UK rate (in 2021/2022 this is a minimum of £15,609 per year and £4500 per year respectively). There will also be a contribution towards research costs

References

1. Reichrath J and Rass K Adv Exp Med Biol 2014. 810: 208-33
2. Gordon-Thomson C et al. Adv Exp Med Biol 2014. 810: 303-28
3. Vodenkova S et al Nature Protocols 2020 15: 3844-3878
4. Healing E et al. Nucleic Acids Res 2019 47: e61
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