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SWBio DTP PhD project - Skeletal dysplasia: establishing metabolic & nutritional requirements to manage health risks

Department for Health

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Dr James Betts No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP)

The DTP offers an interdisciplinary research training programme delivered by a consortium comprising the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter, Cardiff University and Rothamsted Research, alongside six regional associate partners: Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Swansea University, UCB Pharma, University of the West of England and SETsquared Bristol.

All SWBio DTP projects will follow a structured 4-year PhD model, combining traditional project-focussed studies with a taught first year which includes directed rotation projects.

+++ Studentships are available for entry in October 2021 - please see ’Funding Notes’ section below and for information on eligibility +++


Lead supervisor: Prof James Betts, University of Bath, Department for Health ([Email Address Removed])
Co-supervisors: Prof Peter Rogers (Bristol), Dr Jean-Philippe Walhin (Bath) and Dr Javier Gonzalez (Bath)


Some people are born with a condition that prevents their bones from growing in the usual way. The medical term for this is skeletal dysplasia but it is often known as dwarfism. Most people notice that this results in short arms and legs but are unaware of the many other health problems that can limit quality of life (e.g. breathing difficulties due to changes in the skull, neck and back operations due to changes in the spine, joint pain where bones do not fit together well and so extra difficulties moving around in a world designed for taller people).

All the above problems can be made worse if a person becomes overweight or obese. This is important because people with skeletal dysplasia are more likely to gain weight than those who are average height. People with skeletal dysplasia are also then more likely to become ill with life-threatening diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Nobody knows why being extremely short would cause these problems. It is likely that metabolic rate might explain the links between body fat levels and health markers – but no scientific research has ever made these measurements in this unique group of people.

The reason there is no research in this area is that scientists with the necessary skills have not had access to a large group of people with skeletal dysplasia. Our research team has linked with several major charities to do just that, so we can measure metabolic rate and the metabolic response to a meal very accurately from a large number of people. We will also then use cutting-edge wearable technology to monitor diet and physical activity levels once people return to their normal lifestyles, so we can understand completely how much energy they take in and use on a daily basis.

One benefit of these measurements is that they will reveal the range of body fat that is metabolically healthy for a person with skeletal dysplasia. This is important because the usual ways to do this by simply checking the healthy range for body weight or body mass index (i.e. the right weight for your height) does not work well unless all parts of the body are the usual size and shape. Individuals with skeletal dysplasia therefore currently have no way to know whether they should lose weight and, if so, what would be an appropriate diet and physical activity for them.


Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be addressed to the lead supervisor.

Enquiries about the application process should be addressed to [Email Address Removed].

Formal applications should be submitted on the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biosciences:

Please ensure that you quote the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section. You may apply for more than one project if you wish but you should submit a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

If you are an EU/EEA/Swiss national with settled or pre-settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme, please upload documentary evidence with your application.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website

Funding Notes

Studentships cover tuition fees at the ‘Home’ level, research/training costs and a stipend (£15,285 p.a., 2020/21 rate) for 3.5 years.

The main categories of candidates normally eligible for 'Home' fees are:
UK nationals*
Irish nationals living in the UK/Ireland
Applicants with settled or pre-settled* status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme
Applicants with indefinite leave to enter/remain in the UK

* must have lived in the UK/EEA/Switzerland continuously since September 2018.

If you do not qualify for ‘Home’ fees, you may be considered for an international student fee discount equivalent to the difference between ‘Home’ and ‘Overseas’ fees.
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