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PhD Studentship: Novel Gene-Diet Interactions and Determinants of Health in High-Risk Minority Groups

University of Leeds - School of Food Science and Nutrition and Leeds Institute of Data Analytics (LIDA)

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Leeds
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £15,500 per annum
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 4th January 2019
Closes: 29th March 2019
Value: The award covers the full value of the UK/EU course fee and a maintenance grant of £15,500 per annum. International applicants will be required to pay the difference between the UK/EU and International fee rate. Bench fees and writing-up costs, to a maximum of £5,000, are also included.
Number of awards: 1
Deadline: 29 March 2019

Key benefits: The student will have an opportunity to be part of an exciting multi-disciplinary project that bridges nutrition and molecular epidemiology and genetics, and collaboration between the school of Food Science and Nutrition and the Leeds Institute of Data Analytics (LIDA). During the PhD, the student will benefit form this collaboration and further their current research skills and understanding of nutrition, genetics, epidemiology, and statistics. Upon completion, the student will have expertise across these disciplines and be well positioned to continue onwards and contribute to academia and industry.
Type of project: Directly funded PhD projects

Contact Dr Michael Zulyniak to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

Minority ethnic groups can be up to 5-fold greater risk of cardiometabolic disease and cancers, compared to the general population. Studies demonstrate that ethnic-specific risks persist throughout life and that part of the risk stems from inherent metabolic differences between ethnic groups.

Previous evidence that (i) Asians metabolise polyunsaturated fatty acids more efficiently than white Europeans and (ii) the microbiome of South Asian infants is significantly different from white Europeans infants are just two examples of this. This suggests that the same diet can impart different effects between ethnic groups. This agrees with recent work demonstrating that adherence to plant-based diets during pregnancy associated with different infant birthweight trajectories in white Europeans and South Asians. In short, the evidence suggests that ethnic-specific metabolic adaptations are accountable for the heightened level of cardiometabolic risk observed in minority ethnic groups. Metabolite-genome wide (mGWAS) approaches bridge the gap between genomics and metabolomics, by allowing researchers to quantify the metabolic effect of a genetic variant. By identifying genetic variants that influence metabolism we can then investigate where there are genetically-driven metabolic differences between different ethnicities, without having to worry so much about the confounding factors (e.g., lifestyle).

For this proposal, mGWAS will be supplemented with molecular and nutritional epidemiological methods to identify:

(i) ethnic-specific gene-metabolite associations with a causative effect (using Mendelian randomisation) and

(ii) ethnically-appropriate foods than offer a preventative therapy. As part of this work the student will work with data collected as part of the Born in Bradford cohort to: (i) construct ethnic-specific polygenic risk scores of glucose sensitivity;

(ii) identify ethnic-specific metabolites that associate with glucose sensitivity; and

(iii) identify genetic characteristics that underlie the ethnic-specific in differences in metabolism and glucose sensitivity. This research will identify inherent ethnic-specific determinants of dysglycaemia in a high-risk minority group population and provide future direction for interventions that aim to mitigate this risk. Furthermore, this studentship will demonstrate the importance of recognising population-specific determinants and further the push for population-specific interventions.

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), and/or a Master's degree in food science and nutrition or relevant subject such as (but not limited to) nutrition, molecular biology, genomics, epidemiology, and statistics.

Candidates with graduate experience in epidemiology and/or statistics are particularly welcome.

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