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EASTBIO: Investigating the effect of underutilised, emerging, polyphenol-rich berries on cardiometabolic health

Project Description


Dr Nigel Hoggard (Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen)

Dr Vanessa Rungapamestry (Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen)

Dr Gordon McDougall (The James Hutton Institute, Dundee)

Cardiovascular disease remains a global health challenge as prevalence of cardiometabolic risk factors, such as obesity and metabolic disturbances, reach pandemic proportions. Epidemiological and emerging experimental evidence from our research and others suggests that consumption of polyphenol-rich berries may improve cardiometabolic health. However, the mechanistic basis for their proposed benefits in humans is less clear. This is primarily due to lack of (1) robust dietary intervention studies to measure the long term consumption of berries on cardiometabolic health, and (2) physiologically-relevant cellular models to test the effect of bioavailable berry metabolites on cardiometabolic risk.

This project will use aronia berries, blackcurrants, and honeyberries as emerging, novel, polyphenol-rich crops suitable for growth in the UK, to shed light on the potential mechanisms through which their consumption may improve human cardiometabolic health. It will aim to:

(1) Measure the effect of long term berry consumption on mechanistic indices of cardiometabolic health in a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, crossover dietary intervention, supported by funding from the Scottish Government.

(2) Develop physiologically-relevant in vitro and ex vivo cell culture models of cardiovascular (e.g. endothelial function, vascular inflammation) and metabolic (e.g. glucose uptake, alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase activity) health, and test the potential mechanisms of action of bioavailable berry metabolites.

The student will receive specific training in in vitro and in vivo methods under good research practice principles and in an interdisciplinary and intellectually-stimulating research environment via supervisors or Core Facilities. Training will be provided in a range of scientific disciplines, e.g. Human Nutrition, Phytochemistry, Analytical chemistry, Physiology and biochemistry, Biomarker analysis, and Statistics. Extensive training will be provided in laboratory biochemical techniques (e.g. cell culture, and analysis of gene and protein expression, cytotoxicity, and enzyme activity), chemical analysis of plant bioactive compounds in biological samples using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, the design and execution of human dietary intervention studies, biomarker analysis in blood and cell culture samples, statistical analysis of data, and dissemination of research findings. The student will receive formal training in research and transferable skills via the university’s PhD programme, e.g. scientific conduct, research ethics and governance, project design, data handling and statistics, scientific writing, presentational skills, entrepreneurship, and knowledge exchange. Further support and mentoring will be provided by an allocated advisor. The student’s progress will be formally monitored six monthly and formal assessment of progress will be executed yearly by academic staff out-with the supervisory team.

Along with core funding from the Scottish Government, this project is aligned closely with industry needs through collaboration with various berry breeding consortia at The James Hutton Institute (e.g., ongoing EU projects (e.g., close links with the emerging Scottish Honeyberry Industry (, and collaboration with an industry partner with international leadership in natural plant ingredients ( The project also benefits from interactions with the NHS Grampian Cardiology Research Facility located at the major teaching hospital on campus, and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland. These collaborations ensure a solid framework for undertaking the project in a scientifically and technically robust, multidisciplinary, and translational manner.

Funding Notes

This project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Full funding is available to UK/EU* applicants only.

* Residency criteria may apply for some EU applicants - please email to check your eligibility for this studentship.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject.

Please apply for admission to the 'Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Human Nutrition (Medicine)' to ensure that your application is passed to the correct school for processing.


Quiñones M, Miguel M, Aleixandre A. Beneficial effects of polyphenols on cardiovascular disease. Pharmacol Res. 2013; 68(1), 125-31.

Chong M, Macdonald M and Lovegrove JA. Fruit polyphenols and CVD risk: a review of human intervention studies. Br J Nutr 2010; 104, pp. S28-S39

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