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Projects

On this page you can find out about PhD opportunities currently available in Biomedical Science. These projects cover developmental biology, cell biology, physiology and pharmacology, neuroscience, models of human disease, human stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Click on a project title below to find out more.

Some of these projects come with specific funding (eg, from a research council or Centre for Doctoral Training) to cover your tuition fees and living expenses. If you successfully apply for one of these projects, and you meet the eligibility requirements, you will be automatically awarded the funding. These projects are marked 'FUNDED' in the list below.

If a project does not come with specific funding, that does not mean that there is no funding available. Some projects are marked 'COMPETITION FUNDED', which means you may be awarded a scholarship after you have submitted your application – let us know if you wish to be considered for a scholarship by including this in your application form. We also accept applications from students who are applying for funding separately, or have funding in place already.

You can find out about scholarships on the following webpage: 

Once you have identified a potential project and supervisor, please complete the University's postgraduate online application form to apply. If you wish to be considered for a scholarship, you should state this in the form. You should also include any information you have about funding that you are applying for separately, or that you have in place already.

It is a good idea to contact the supervisor of any PhD opportunity you want to apply for, before you submit your application.

Postgraduate online application form

Do you have your own idea for a project?

Find a potential supervisor by visiting our research webpages. Contact a member of academic staff to find out about PhD opportunities in their area.

Research

We also have a list of self funded projects currently available in Biomedical Science and open to prospective PhD students.

Self Funded Projects


Projects for entry starting academic year 2018-19

Interaction of visual and olfactory systems in the zebrafish brain - Anton Nikolaev (Funding available)

Supervisors: Dr Anton Nikolaev and Dr Suresh Jesuthasan

Funding status: A fully funded PhD studentship is available for a highly motivated student to work on interactions between visual and olfactory systems in zebrafish. This is a collaborative project between Dr. Anton Nikolaev’s lab in the University of Sheffield and Dr. Suresh Jesuthasan’s lab in the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Singapore.

Background
Behavioural decisions are often based on the simultaneous input from different sensory modalities.  For example, recognition of objects, estimation of their speed and position, depends on information coming from visual, olfactory and auditory systems. It is yet unclear how different sensory modalities interact and influence each other to achieve more reliable outcome.

The main aim of the proposed PhD project is to address how processing of visual information is affected by the olfactory input using zebrafish larvae as a model organism. Using a combination of behavioural techniques, 2-photon imaging of neuronal activity and advanced data analysis, you will study how the tuning properties of visual neurons in zebrafish are affected by the olfactory neurons responsible for detection of various behaviourally relevant odours. 

The specific objectives of the project are:

  1. To define whether behaviourally relevant odours affect activity of the retinal neurons
  2. To define how behaviourally relevant odours shape visual tuning properties of the tectal neurons
  3. To define whether habenula is involved in regulation of visual tuning properties by the olfactory system

Eligibility and Entry Requirements

The project is for students with biological, engineering or physical sciences background with 1st or 2:1 Bachelor’s degree from UK University or an equivalent.  The position is for UK/EU citizens only.

You must also be willing to travel: in the first half of the study you will work under supervision of Dr. Nikolaev in Sheffield and then move to Singapore to work under supervision of Dr. Jesuthasan. All travel expenses will be covered.

Contact information

For informal enquiries about the project or application process, please feel free to contact:

and Suresh Jesuthasan ( sureshjj@imcb.a-star.edu.sg )

Dissecting Extracellular Matrix Internalisation Mechanisms using Functional Genomics - Elena Rainero (Funding for UK, EU Students)

Supervisor: Dr Elena Rainero

Location: Department of Biomedical Science, The University of Sheffield / Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR institute, Singapore

This is a 4-year funded PhD project, with 2 years in Sheffield and 2 years in Singapore.

  • Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
  • Funding amount: £14,553
  • Hours: Full Time
  • Application deadline: 13th June 2018

Project Description

The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a complex network of secreted glycoproteins providing tissue support and controls a variety of cell functions, including tumour growth. Reports dating back to the 1990s have documented the internalisation of ECM components, including collagen and laminin. More recently, ECM endocytosis has been linked to increased matrix degradation by cancer cells. Consistent with this observation, previous work by the Rainero group demonstrated that ECM internalisation is required for cancer cell migration and nutrient signalling, suggesting the intriguing hypothesis that ECM uptake might represent a nutrient source for invasive cancer cells. These observations point to the machinery controlling ECM endocytosis as a novel target for the development of pharmacological intervention to limit cancer spreading.

Preliminary data from the Rainero lab show that ECM internalisation is strongly increased in invasive breast cancer cells, compared to normal mammary epithelial cells and non-invasive breast cancer cells. Cells interact with the ECM through plasma membrane receptors, which has been shown to promote the internalisation of their ECM component ligands. The molecular mechanisms controlling this are poorly defined. To faithfully recapitulate the architecture and composition of the in vivo ECM, cell-derived matrices (CDMs) will be used. These are fibrillar 3D matrices generated by fibroblasts and the tools to study their internalisation have been recently developed in the Rainero lab.

This project will characterise the endocytic mechanisms controlling ECM internalisation using a functional genomic approach and test whether the GALA pathway affects ECM internalisation. This will be achieved using the RNA interference (RNAi) screening technology at the genomic scale, which will allow the identification and accurate quantification of novel key players in this process. The RNAi screen will be performed at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology RNAi screening facility (which is embedded in the Bard lab), using the human genome siRNA library and the invasive human breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231. We will use bioinformatics to construct regulatory networks and subnetworks, to provide a genetic overview of the endocytic pathways controlling ECM internalisation by cancer cells. Based on this analysis, key pathway(s) will be identified and a list of hits will be selected and validated using cells extracted from mouse primary breast tumours. Finally, the contribution of the identified regulators of ECM uptake and the GALA pathway in controlling breast cancer cell proliferation and migration will be investigated, using imaging-based proliferation assays, live cell time-lapse microscopy and 3D invasion assays.

These studies will provide a comprehensive and complementary set of molecular cell biology and genetic approaches, coupled with advanced bioinformatics and imaging techniques to elucidate the molecular mechanisms controlling ECM internalisation. The data generated will provide novel insight into the contribution of regulators of ECM internalisation in the control breast cancer cell proliferation and migration.

Whilst in Sheffield, students receive fees (£4,260 in 2018/19) and an RCUK rate stipend (£14,553 in 2018/19).

Whilst in Singapore, students receive the following:

  • A monthly stipend of 2,500 Singapore dollars.
  • A one-off "settling-in allowance" of 1,000 Singapore dollars.
  • A one-time airfare allowance of 1,500 Singapore dollars.
  • Consumables and Bench Fees.
  • Cost of medical insurance while the student is based at A*Star.

Contact information

For informal enquiries about the project or application process, please feel free to contact:

FROM  MOLECULES  TO  VISION - Jarema Malicki (Funding by Fight For Sight)

Supervisor: Dr Jarema Malicki

Funding status: This project is funded by Fight For Sight, an eye research charity. Funding includes a stipend of 17,000 GBP/year for three years and a travel allowance. Applicants are expected to have excellent record of academic performance, and research experience in biochemistry and molecular genetics. Interested individuals are encouraged to contact Dr. Jarema Malicki for further details. Review of applications will start in March 2018.

Project Description

Photoreceptors of the vertebrate eye are exquisite biological sensors capable of detecting single photons. Light sensitivity of photoreceptors is mediated by hundreds of millions of opsin molecules tightly packed into hundreds of membrane folds that form the so-called outer segment.

As the outer segment is constantly renewed throughout the lifetime of the organism, it is estimated that 100-1000 opsin molecules are transported to the outer segment every second. The molecular mechanism that mediates opsin transport is one of the central unsolved puzzles of photoreceptor biology. This transport mechanism is also of paramount medical importance as its defects lead to photoreceptor death and blindness in a range of human genetic disorders, including retinitis pigmentosa, cone-rod dystrophies, Bardet-Biedl Syndrome and others.

The goal of this project is to identify molecular mechanisms that mediate opsin transport. This will be accomplished using biochemical and imaging approaches. Biochemistry experiments will include tandem affinity purification (TAP), a two-step protocol designed to recover intact protein complexes from cells and tissues. In parallel, transport mechanism components will be localized at high resolution using advanced imaging super-resolution microscopy techniques, stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) in particular. 

The Malicki lab has long experience with studies of the visual system in general and photoreceptor cells in particular. For details of our past contributions to this and other fields please see the website page of:

In addition, informal enquiries about the project or application process are welcomed.

IMAGING LIFE BEYOND THE DIFFRACTION LIMIT OF LIGHT - Jarema Malicki (Awaiting funding decision/Possible external funding)

Supervisor: Dr Jarema Malicki

Funding status: Awaiting funding decision/Possible external funding

Project Description

Ever since its invention centuries ago, light microscopy has been hampered by the diffractive properties of light, which limit resolution to ca. 200 nm. This resolution limit precludes the visualization of many subcellular structures and has been a major obstacle in the imaging of biological processes. Recent advances in fluorophore excitation methods and image processing algorithms have overcome this limitation, increasing image resolution by as much as 10 times to about 20 nm. This new form of imaging is termed super-resolution microscopy.

Super-resolution microscopy opens unprecedented opportunities. We take advantage of this approach to image subcellular structures that regulate intracellular traffic. We focus on barrier mechanisms that regulate protein movement between the cell’s cytoplasm and the cilium, a tiny subcellular compartment involved in signal detection on cell surface. The cilium is just 250 nm across and so conventional light microscopy is not suitable visualize its inner architecture. The inner components of cilia are, however, essential for the function of many cells, tissues, and organs, including sensory neurons.

As the initial step, we applied super-resolution microscopy to image cilia of a simple unicellular organism, Tetrahymena. By localizing over 30 protein epitopes, we generated a 3D model of the cilia base. As the next step, we will extend these imaging studies to vertebrate tissues, focusing on the nervous system. We will use transgenic lines that express specialized fluorescent proteins suitable for super-resolution imaging in sensory neurons of zebrafish. This will make it possible to image vital structures, such as cilia or synaptic termini, in unprecedented detail and thereby gain insight into their function. 

Keywords: Cell Biology / Development, Genetics

Contact information

For informal enquiries about the project or application process, please feel free to contact: