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Using lipid nano-particles to study G-protein-coupled receptors

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, March 31, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

We are seeking a highly-motivated candidate for this exciting PhD project in the laboratory of Professor Mark Wheatley, Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology. It is a joint PhD between Coventry University and Stellenbosch University with the student being registered for a PhD at both Universities. The successful candidate will be based at Coventry University and will spend a few months in the laboratory of Professor Klumperman at Stellenbosch University during the course of the PhD.

Upon successful completion the student will be awarded a PhD by both Institutions.

Project details

G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) form the largest family of membrane proteins in the human genome and are the therapeutic target for ~40% of clinically-prescribed drugs. Understanding their structure & function at the molecular level is of fundamental importance. Using styrene maleic acid (SMA) co-polymer, we reported the first purification of active GPCR encapsulated in nano-scale SMA lipid particles (SMALPs), in the complete absence of detergent, thereby preserving the native lipid environment of the GPCR. This is ‘cutting edge’ research.

This is a multidisciplinary project combining molecular pharmacology, fluorescence techniques and biophysics. We will exploit our powerful SMALP technologies to provide new insights into GPCR structure and molecular mechanisms, including conformational changes associated with activation and drug binding, using engineered receptors with fluorescent ligands and probes and developing novel SMA-like polymers specifically tailored for GPCR research.

This project will provide the student with a broad skill-base, working with an international collaborative team and expertise relevant to a future career in either academia or the pharmaceutical industry.

Institutional Profiles

Coventry University has been voted ‘Modern University of the Year’ three times running by The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide. Ranked in the UK’s top 12 (Guardian University Guide), we have a global reputation for research with impact and high quality teaching. Almost two-thirds (61%) of our research was judged ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014.

This research will take place within the Centre for Sports, Exercise & Life Sciences (CSELS) reflects a broad range of sport, exercise and biological associated sciences to understand life from the level of molecules through to the whole body. The Centre has considerable expertise, ranging from microbiology, cell biology, genomic and molecular biology, biochemistry, molecular pharmacology, nutrition and food science, safety pharmacology, physiology, physical activity and sport performance. CSELS doctoral training was awarded prestigious accreditation from the Royal Society of Biology, the first university in the UK to hold this accolade.

Stellenbosch University is amongst South Africa's leading tertiary institutions based on research output, student pass rates and rated scientists, and is recognised internationally as an academic institution of excellence. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, SU is one of the top 300 universities in the world. lt also features among the world's elite institutions in 10 of the 36 subjects featured in the QS World University Rankings by Subject for 2015.

Stellenbosch is home to an academic community of 29 000 students (including 4 000 foreign students from 100 countries) on five campuses. The historical oak-lined university town amongst the Boland Mountains in the winelands of the Western Cape creates a unique campus atmosphere. This, together with the scenic beauty of the area; state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly facilities and technology, as well as visionary thinking about the creation of a sustainable 21st-century institution, makes for the University’s unique character.

Prof. Bert Klumperman is a formal collaborator on this project and is holder of the NRF/DST South African Research Chair on Advanced Macromolecular Architectures, hosted by Stellenbosch University. The successful candidate will have the added benefit of joining his 20-strong research group for a few months during this PhD project.


• Our research strategy is underpinned by a £250m investment in research and facilities
• Dedicated Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability Development deliver high quality professional support for researchers, from PhD to Professor
• Free training: research career planning, managing your doctorate, research communication skills, research ethics, research impact, research integrity, research methods and research supervision
• Coventry is a member of the Doctoral Training Alliance (DTA), the largest multi-partner and only nationwide doctoral training initiative of its kind.

Entry criteria for applicants to PhD

A minimum of a 2:1 first degree in a relevant discipline/subject area with a minimum 60% mark in the Project element or equivalent with a minimum 60% overall module average.

In the event of a first degree classification of less than 2:1, a Masters Degree in a relevant subject area will be considered as an equivalent. The Masters must have been attained with overall marks at minimum merit level (60%). In addition, the dissertation or equivalent element in the Masters must also have been attained with a mark at minimum merit level (60%).

Candidates must apply and be accepted to both universities in order to be accepted for the dual award programme. Candidates are strongly advised to apply to Coventry as soon as possible, and to both universities well in advance of the 31st March 2020 deadline for complete applications with full supporting documentation.

Stellenbosch University reserves the right to request original and/or additional supporting documentation should this be deemed necessary at any point.

How to apply

Candidates must apply both to CU and to SU

Coventry University: Apply online:
Submitting full supporting documentation, and covering letter only

Stellenbosch University: Apply online:

Please identify yourself clearly in the body of your application as a “Coventry-based dual award student”

Start date: May 2020

Duration of study: Full-Time – 3.5 years fixed term

Application deadline: 31st March 2020 for complete applications with full supporting documentation

Interview dates: Interview dates will be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded PhD - tuition fee and stipend
1 return flight +visa costs for research period at Stellenbosch University (3-6 month stay to be agreed with the candidate depending on project requirements)

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