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  SWBio DTP PhD project: The impact of meal-feeding on human mental and metabolic health

   Department for Health

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  Prof 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 SWBio DTP is funded by BBSRC and involves a partnership of world-renown universities, research institutes and industry across the South West and Wales. This partnership represents a distinctive group of bioscientists with established international, national and regional networks and widely recognised research excellence. We aim to provide students with outstanding interdisciplinary research training.

Studentships are available for entry in October 2023.

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

Supervisory Team:

Lead supervisor: Prof James Betts, University of Bath, Department for Health, email [Email Address Removed] 

Co-supervisors: Dr Timothy Wells (Cardiff University), Dr Amanda Hornsby (Cardiff University) and Dr Javier Gonzalez (University of Bath)

Collaborators: Dr Jamie Walker (University of Exeter) and Dr Jeffrey Davies (Swansea University)

The Project:

The physiological impact of temporal feeding patterns remains one the most important unanswered questions in nutritional science. Evidence from epidemiological studies suggesting a relationship between increased feeding events and detrimental health outcomes is compromised by reliance upon self-reported food intake and potential confounding variables and reverse-causality. We have taken a more controlled approach using a CLAMS-based automated feeding station to determine the impact of grazing and meal-feeding on multiple physiological outcomes in laboratory rodents.

In this project, you will undertake two initial rotation projects. In the first, conducted in the laboratory of Dr Tim Wells (Cardiff University), you will investigate the impact of nocturnal grazing and meal-feeding on anxiety-like behaviour in female mice, using loxTB-GHSR mice to determine the role of ghrelin-signalling. This will necessitate analysis of videos of mice in open field and elevated plus maze tests. In the second rotation in the laboratory of Prof James Betts (University of Bath), you will apply your experience of the above rodent studies to create a complementary parallel protocol in human volunteers and develop expertise both in the co-ordination of large-scale clinical trials and the biochemical analysis of tissue samples obtained from free-living participants.

The main doctoral thesis will then involve the implementation of the protocols developed in rotation 2 in the form of at least two randomised controlled trials: one acute laboratory-based cross-over experiment and the other a longer-term field-based parallel groups design.

Consistent with our work using rodent models, adult men and women will receive a standardised, isoenergetic diet in one of two patterns, either:

a. Small portions every 30 mins during the normal waking hours (08:00 – 19:30h)

b. Three meals at 08:00h, 13:00h and 19:00h

The initial experimental chapters of this doctoral thesis will examine the acute effects of these feeding patterns by directly administering nutrients at the above times in a controlled laboratory environment, with serial tissue sampling (arterialised venous blood, skeletal muscle and adipose tissue), along with evaluation of cognitive performance and anxiety during validated stress tests.

The latter experimental chapters of the thesis will examine the free-living responses of these participants with sustained adherence to the prescribed feeding patterns for four weeks. Specifically, we will employ modern advances in non-invasive wearable technology (e.g. transdermal sensors) to continuously monitor metabolism/HPA axis activity (e.g. glucose, cortisol), behaviour (e.g. physical activity, polysomnography) and mental health (e.g. anxiety, stress and depression).

Project keywords: feeding patterns, mental health, metabolic health, hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis, human volunteers.


Applicants should 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. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or an equivalent qualification/experience* is required.

* Physics A-level (grade B and above) or units in your degree with a significant mathematical component, e.g. maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their Maths background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.

If English is not your first language, you will need to have achieved Academic IELTS 7.0 overall (with no less than 6.5 in any of the four skills). Find details of other acceptable tests and further information on our website.

Enquiries and Applications:

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

Formal applications should be submitted on the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biosciences (Biology & Biochemistry). Note: if you are successful, you will be transferred to the PhD in Health (SWBio DTP) programme when we issue an offer of study.

When completing the form, please identify your application as being for the SWBio DTP studentship competition in Section 3 Finance (question 2) and quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the ‘Your research interests’ section.  You may apply for more than one project within the same application but you should upload a separate (clearly labelled) personal statement for each one, outlining your interest and suitability for that particular project.

See our website for more information about applying for a PhD at Bath.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We want to support diverse and inclusive work environments. We therefore welcome applications from individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, gender or disability status.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

Candidates may be considered for SWBio DTP studentship tenable for 4 years. Funding covers tuition fees, a stipend (£17,668 p/a in 2022/23) plus an allowance for research/training costs, fieldwork, conference attendance and a 3-month placement. Studentships are open to both Home and International students; however, International applicants should note that funding does NOT cover the cost of a student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK. In line with guidance from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the number of awards available to International candidates will be limited to 30% of the total.

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