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Biomedical Sciences Masters by Research

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Biomedical Sciences Masters by Research

Projects and Supervisors

Choose from the projects listed below.

Applicants will be expected to have experience and evident knowledge of molecular cell biology, biochemistry.

Dr Philip Chen
Pharmacology of glycine-site agonists at NMDA receptors

This project will characterise a number of novel agonists at NMDA receptors using molecular biology and recording glutamate evoked inward currents from oocytes injected with mutant NMDARs under two-electrode voltage clamp configuration. The project will involve molecular techniques such as subcloning, site-directed mutagenesis, PCR and in vitro cRNA synthesis, injection of cRNA into Xenopus oocytes and two-electrode voltage clamp electrophysiology.

Examining the consequences of altered RNA editing on neuronal function

RNA editing is a process by which specific nucleotides are modified following gene transcription and disruptions in these processes have been linked to certain neurodegenerative conditions. We have developed a number of genetic tools to manipulate RNA editing and would like to explore their consequences on cell function. This project would involve mammalian tissue culture, RNA extraction, cell transfection and RT-PCR.

Research page - Dr Chen

Professor Simon Cutting
Mucosal vaccines

Work consists of innovative bacterial delivery systems for mucosal vaccination (i.e. against malaria or TB). Due to the dynamics of our projects, they are ongoing and subject to change on a regular basis and cannot be specified in advance.

Research pages - Professor Cutting

Dr Linda Popplewell
Optimisation of antisense oligonucleotide-induced exon skipping as a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy


Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a severe muscle-wasting disease due to a lack of dystrophin protein, is caused by mutations in the DMD gene. Antisense oligonucleotides (AOs) can be used to restore the transcript reading frame so that truncated but functional dystrophin protein is expressed. Clinical trials show that such a therapy appears to halt the progression of the disease. The aim of this project would be to enhance the levels of exon skipping seen using alternative AO delivery methods, and modulators of gene expression so that therapeutic benefit is enhanced.

Upregulation of utrophin expression as a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a severe muscle-wasting disease due to a lack of dystrophin protein, is caused by mutations in the DMD gene. Utrophin is a structural homolog of dystrophin protein and can act as its substitute at the sarcolemma. Upregulation of utrophin expression has been achieved using small molecule interaction with its promoter. While good results are evident in animal models, effects appear to be limited in clinical trial. The aim of this project would be to examine alternative strategies to upregulate utrophin expression using the CRISPR system together with transcriptional activators.

Research pages - Dr Popplewell

Professor Pankaj Sharma
Epidemiology of global stroke in South Asians

You will be based in a group headed by a clinical academic.

Stroke is the third commonest cause of death in the UK. WHO estimates that by 2050 around 80% of all stroke will be in India and China. Our group has amassed the largest database of South Asian stroke in the world. We have data from UK, India and the Middle East.

It is expected that these projects will lead to publications in major international peer review journals.

This project will allow students to analyse this extensive database to search for interactions between stroke and established risk factors

Risk factors in South Asian stroke

You will be based in a group headed by a clinical academic.

Stroke is the third commonest cause of death in the UK. WHO estimates that by 2050 around 80% of all stroke will be in India and China. Our group has amassed the largest database of South Asian stroke in the world. We have data from UK, India and the Middle East.

It is expected that these projects will lead to publications in major international peer review journals.

This project will allow students to analyse this extensive database to search for novel risk factors in South Asians and compare and contrast such factors with stroke in Caucasians.

Designing a new strategy for ‘five-a-day’ intake

You will be based in a group headed by a clinical academic and be supervised by two clinicians.

The 5-a-day campaign was launched by the UK Government to ensure that the population eats at least five fruit and vegetables per day. Research suggests that those that do this have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, the evidence is that most people do not remember how many of their 5-a-day they have eaten. We propose to develop a new colour based flag strategy for each meal to replace the 5-a-day slogan.

This work potentially has large and important clinical and public health implications.

Research pages - Professor Sharma

Dr Mikhail Soloviev
Biomarkers of metabolic disorders for screening at risk patients and early detection and prevention of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease

The metabolic syndrome (MS) comprises obesity and a cluster of metabolic disorders associated with insulin resistance and inflammation which predisposes the individuals to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Physical inactivity, high-caloric intake, smoking and heavy alcohol consumption, which are all preventable and reversible, fuel the development of MS, affecting 20-25% of Western populations. However, MS is even more prevalent (35-40%) among individuals with spinal cord injuries and cancer survivors, leading to increased risk of developing CVD and type 2 diabetes in these individuals.

This project aims to predict and test blood and urine biomarkers for the early detection of metabolic disorders in at risk patients to allow intervention and prevention of CVD. Selected markers will be tested using a range of affinity based assays (lateral flow, ELISA, microarrays, HPLC) for which training will be provided. Strong candidates with the interest in medical sciences with an aspiration in taking the project further to clinical application in preventative health and disease should email both supervisors with their CV and a short description of their research interests in advance of making formal application.

Supervisors: Dr Thang S Han (Institute of Cardiovascular Research) and Dr Mikhail Soloviev, Royal Holloway University of London

The aetiology of thrombosis in cancer survivors: biomarkers for screening and identifying at risk patients

Blood clotting is a natural process which helps our bodies to repair injuries to blood vessels. Normal thrombogenesis is an important part of haemostasis. Disorders in coagulation system may lead to obstruction of blood flow through the blood vessels, ischemia and irreversible damage of the affected tissues. The association of cancer, particularly haematological type, with increased risk of thrombosis has been well documented. A number of biomarkers have been associated with the increased risk of thrombosis in cancer patients. However, the aetiology/pathophysiology of thrombosis in cancer survivors remains unexplained.

This project aims to predict and test blood and urine biomarkers for screening at risk patients to allow intervention and prevention of thrombosis. Selected markers will be tested using a range of affinity based assays (lateral flow, ELISA, microarrays, HPLC) for which training will be provided. Strong candidates with the interest in medical sciences with an aspiration in taking the project further to clinical application in preventative health and disease should email both supervisors with their CV and a short description of their research interests in advance of making formal application.

Supervisors: Dr Thang S Han (Institute of Cardiovascular Research) and Dr Mikhail Soloviev, Royal Holloway University of London

Research Pages - Dr Thang

Research pages - Dr Soloviev

ClearGold: immunochromatographic assays for minimally invasive early detection and stratification of breast cancers

This project aims to address one of the critical research gaps in the prevention, detection and treatment of breast cancer and will aids the development of screening approaches. The key objectives are to test the predicted molecular markers for their suitability for minimally invasive early detection and stratification of breast cancers, and to devise immunoassays for their detection. We aim to develop multiplex affinity assays for serum profiling and simpler lateral flow immunochromatographic assays, akin Clearblue pregnancy tests, for Point-of-Care (PoC) urine analyses. New assays will allow mass screening, improve the time to diagnosis, improve clinical management, will lead to better health outcomes and should help to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer (currently 12,000 each year).

Antibodies generated against selected novel markers will be tested using a range of affinity based assays (lateral flow, ELISA, microarrays, HPLC) for which training will be provided. Strong candidates with the interest in biomedical and analytical sciences with an aspiration in taking the project further to clinical application in preventative health and disease should email supervisor with their CV and a short description of their research interests in advance of making formal application.
Supervisor: Dr Mikhail Soloviev, Royal Holloway University of London

Research pages - Dr Soloviev

Experimental flow model of arterial thrombosis

Blood clotting is a natural process which helps our bodies to repair injuries to blood vessels. Normal process of thrombogenesis is an important part of haemostasis. However, disorders in the coagulation system may lead to abnormal formation of clots, resulting in obstruction of blood flow through blood vessels, causing ischemia and irreversible damage to affected tissues. Arterial thrombosis is the main underlying pathology in such ischaemic events and a major contributor to deaths caused by ischemic strokes, myocardial infarction and pulmonary embolism. This project aims to set up and test an experimental flow model of an artery to mimic anatomical conditions and physiological blood flow rates (1-10 ml/s) and flow velocities (up to ~ 100 cm/s). The flow model will employ a range of real-time spectrometric, flow and pressure sensors. The system will be used to model arterial thrombosis and to study the kinetics of clot lysis and re-canalisation.

Strong candidates with background in biophysics, analytical sciences, instrumental analyses and the interest in biomedical engineering and cardiovascular biology are invited to email supervisors with their CV and a short description of their research interests in advance of making formal application.

Supervisors: Dr Mikhail Soloviev, Royal Holloway University of London

Mr. Abdullah Jibawi, Ashford and St Peter's Hospital

Dr Jorge Tovar
In vitro study of the cell-cell interactions between Aspergillus fumigatus and Bdellovibrio relevant to cystic fibrosis patients.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder caused due to mutations in CFTR gene. The gene is important for the regulation of epithelial fluid transport in the exocrine glands, situated largely in respiratory and alimentary systems. The lung of CF patients is increasingly found co-infected with fungal and bacterial pathogens (deDios et al, 2017; Middleton et al, 2013). Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are the most common bacteria found in the CF lung. Aspergillus spp., Candida spp., Scedosporium spp., and Exophiala spp. are the most frequently detected fungi (Williams et al, 2016), with a reported 10-57% prevalence for A. fumigatus (deVvrankijker et al, 2017).

Recently published research identified the presence of two predatory bacteria in CF lung microbiota, Bdellovibrio and Vampirovibrio. They limit CF pathogens by feeding on them (deDios et al, 2017). Interestingly, their predatory effect on fungi has not been investigated. This project will aim to understand the interaction between A. fumigatus and Bdellovibrio at the cellular level and will provide training in microbiology and advanced microscopy skills (brightfield and confocal). If Bdellovibrio can exert fungicidal or static effects it could potentially be used to treat CF patients and other manifestations of aspergillosis

Developing novel platforms for the molecular diagnosis of fungal infections

Human fungal infections represent one of the most pressing health problems in recent years. Endemic infections affect healthy immunocompetent individuals causing a range of diseases which generally resolve with chemotherapy but hospital-acquired nosocomial infections pose a serious threat to immunocompromised patients in hospital wards and intensive care units worldwide. Despite the availability of chemotherapy nosocomial infections frequently result in high mortality rates, often exceeding 50%. The development of timely and more efficient molecular diagnostic methods, along with the development of new drugs and anti-fungal vaccines, was recently identified as one of the most pressing needs in medical mycology research.

We are interested in developing and implementing simple nucleic acids diagnostic tests for a range of fungal infections, including both endemic and opportunistic. Using fungal genome data mining and isothermal DNA amplification this project will use Candida – the causative agent of endemic and nosocomial candidosis – to develop simple diagnostic tools that are both amenable to automation and applicable at the point of care.

Research pages: Dr Tovar

Dr Chris Wilkinson
Centrosomes and melanoma

Centrosome aberrations are a hallmark of cancer. Excessive centrosome numbers are thought to drive carcinogenesis by contributing to aneuploidy and chromosomal instability. However, much remains to be understood about the origin and the contribution of excessive centrosomes in tumorigenesis. This Masters project will test if centrosomal abnormalities correlate with progression of melanoma and investigate if this is driven by loss of INK4 proteins p15 and p16. A combination of cell biology, immunocytochemistry, epifluorescence microscopy and protein analysis such as Western blotting will be used in this project.

Role of the centrosomin family of proteins in microcephaly and early neurogenesis

Primary microcephaly is a disease in which the size of the brain is much reduced but normal tissue architecture retained. Last year we showed that loss of many of the genes mutated in microcephaly results in a slow cell cycle, in a zebrafish model of the disease. We’d like to extend this study by looking at embryonic zebrafish brains. It is also a mystery why the brain alone is affected. In the case of one of the genes mutated, there is a sister protein with which it might be partially redundant. In this project, we will deplete this protein from zebrafish embryos and investigate the effect using a combination of zebrafish cell culture, embryology and confocal fluorescence microscopy.

Role of a polycystin-interacting protein in ciliogenesis

Cilia are hair-like structures on the surface of many animal cells. They have important roles in cell signalling and tissue development and homeostasis. Cilium malfunction is linked to autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), which affects 1 in 1,000 of the population, as the cilium houses polycystin-1 whose gene is frequently mutated in ADPKD. This project will investigate the role of a protein that interacts with polycystin-1, discovered by our collaborator, Richard Sandford at Cambridge. A variety of cell biology and embryological techniques will be used to investigate its function using tissue culture cells and zebrafish embryos.

Research pages - Dr Wilkinson

Professor Robin Williams
Bipolar disorder, inositol depletion and the model system Dictyostelium

Bipolar disorder is a common neuropsychiatric disorder that is associated with an increased likelihood of suicide. Research in this field is difficult, since few molecular targets are known, and experimental approaches are almost entirely based upon animal models. One strongly supported mechanism of how bipolar disorder drugs work is the ‘inositol depletion’ hypothesis, which states that treatments such as valproic acid function to deplete inositol within neurons to control an individual’s emotional state. This effect may involve the regulation of the biosynthetic enzyme, inositol synthase. Using Dictyostelium as an animal replacement model, our recent data has identified several mechanisms by which inositol synthase acts. This project will employ Dictyostelium to identify how these mechanisms occur, without the use of animal models. Skills developed in the project will include a range of key molecular cell biology, microbiology and microscopy techniques.

Related research

Defining the primordial target for gamma-secretase in the social amoeba, Dictyostelium

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating neurological disorder that is associated with changes in the activity of a highly conserved protein complex called gamma-secretase. Research in this field is increasingly breeding genetically modified animals as a model for study, and thus alternate non-animal models are needed to reduce animal experimentation. We have recently shown that the key human protein within this complex, presenilin 1, is active in the social amoeba, Dictyostelium. The substrates for the complex are well characterised in humans, however, no substrate has been identified in Dictyostelium. This project will involve the identification and characterisation of a potential Dictyostelium gamma-secretase substrate that will help to unravel the primordial role of this important complex, without the use of animal models. The project will involve the genetic ablation and over-expression of a fluorescently tagged gene in Dictyostelium. Skills developed in the project will include a range of key molecular cell biology, microbiology and microscopy techniques.

Related research

Research Pages - Professor Williams

Professor Rafael Yanez
Gene therapy, viral vector, Spinal muscular atrophy

Spinal muscular atrophy is an autosomal recessive disease and one of the most common and severe inherited disorders. Lack or inactivation of SMN1 leads to progressive degeneration of motor neurons in the spinal cord, causing bilateral muscular atrophy and death in the worst affected cases. We are aiming to develop genetic therapies for this disease with the goal of preventing or slowing down motor neuron degeneration. The project will involve molecular cloning, production of viral vectors and initial testing in cell culture. The expected outcome is lentiviral vectors with the capacity to improve survival of motor neurons.

Research pages - Professor Yanez

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