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Project at University of Surrey: Dietary protein, the microbiota and gut barrier function: a gatekeeper of metabolic & immune health


   FoodBioSystems DTP

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  Dr D Robertson, Dr M Lewis, Prof B A Griffin  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The gut barrier functions to prevent the passage of bacteria and bacterial products into the systemic blood circulation. If the gut barrier fails, bacterial products can infiltrate bodily tissues, causing metabolic and immune dysfunction. The best example of this effect occurs in inflammatory conditions that lead to a translocation of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from the gut to the liver, where LPS has been implicated in promoting the accumulation of ectopic fat and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a common condition that contributes to the development of cardiovascular and terminal liver diseases. We have new evidence to show that gut barrier function, as measured by an increase in gut permeability, is also impaired in healthy men, a phenomenon known as ‘leaky gut’. While there may be different causes of this condition, there is emerging evidence to suggest that the fermentation products of dietary protein may impair gut barrier function in the colon, especially in the absence of fermentable carbohydrate. If this link can be substantiated, it would have major implications for the over consumption of protein in the UK population, especially with respect to proposed dietary recommendations to increase protein intake in middle-aged adults.

The project aims to determine the relationship between gut permeability, diet protein and immune and metabolic health using in vitro and human intervention studies in a collaborative project between the Universities of Surrey and Reading. You will investigate the fermentation profile of dietary food proteins in an in vitro digestion system that reflects the human colon. You will further examine dietary proteins in vivo, in a human dietary intervention study to investigate the effects on the gut barrier, gastrointestinal inflammation, the microbiota and health. The results of these studies will provide unique evidence for a causal link between dietary protein and impaired gut barrier function, and new mechanistic insights into the role of the gut microbiota in human health and disease.

Training Opportunities

There will be training available in human, laboratory, microbiological and in vitro-based model systems at both the University of Surrey and the University of Reading.

The industrial partner (Quorn Foods) will provide hands-on training in employability skills with a specific focus on working in business and industry.

Since this is a paired PhD project with the University of Reading, there will be additional valuable opportunities for gaining expertise animal intervention trials, depending on the interest of the successful candidate.

Student profile

This project would be suitable for a student with a degree in dietetics/human nutrition, microbiology or any biomedical discipline with a keen interest in learning new laboratory and human-based clinical techniques. The minimum entry requirement for a FoodBioSystems DTP studentship is a BSc honours degree at upper second class level (or equivalent). 

How to Apply:

Please do not send CVs to the FoodBioSystems Office. Applications will be by an online application form only and the Selection Panel will not see any CVs. The application closing date is 13 June 2022 (10.00 am BST). Before you decide to apply, please go to the FoodBioSystems website to see guidance to applicants, information on academic and funding eligibility and language proficiency. 

We will be holding an online information meeting for applicants on 31 May. More information and joining instructions will be shared on the FoodBioSystems website.


Funding Notes

Please note: This studentship is available only to individuals who are eligible for UK fees status.
FoodBioSystems DTP students receive an annual tax free stipend (salary) that is paid in instalments throughout the year. For 2022/23 this will be £16,062 and this will increase slightly each year at rate set by UKRI. The project is CASE funded by Syngenta, providing £3,420 p.a. in addition to the basic stipend.
For up to date information on funding eligibility, studentship rates and part time registration, please visit the FoodBioSystems website.
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