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PhD Studentship: Modelling Neurocristopathies in Xenopus, Mechanisms and Drug Screening (WHEELERG_U19MCETN1)

University of East Anglia - School of Biological sciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Norwich
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: Tuition fees are covered for UK/EU rate only (£4,327 2019/20 rate). A living salary will be provided for each year of the scholarship.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 8th November 2019
Closes: 16th December 2019

Start date: 1 April 2020 (start date is flexible should there be a no-deal Brexit on 31 January 2020

Closing date: 12.00pm, Monday 16 December 2019 

Supervisor: Dr Grant Wheeler

Project description: NEUcrest is an Innovative Training Network (ITN) project, funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 Programme. The neural crest (NC) is an essential stem cell population of the vertebrate embryos that gives rise to various tissues in the body such as the cranial facial cartilage, peripheral nervous system and the Adrenal Medulla. NEUcrest focuses on integrating academic, clinical and industrial research for a better understanding of neural crest development and neural crest related diseases called Neurocristopathies. These pathologies are a major group of congenital diseases in human, and a heavy societal concern. The NEUcrest network comprises 20 partners in academia, industry and hospitals from seven European countries, gathered in a synergistic effort to advance knowledge and outreach about these diseases.

The adrenal gland is derived from NC and mesodermal lineages. Disorders of the adrenal glands can lead to congenital neuroendocrine anomalies, autoimmune disease, neurocristopathies and tumors such as neuroblastoma. The embryology of this organ has not been well-studied; therefore, it has been difficult to correlate developmental gene-function interactions and identify novel disease variants. In this project the student will:

1) determine a temporal and spatial map of the development of the adrenal gland during Xenopus embryogenesis including how the NC contributes to its development.

2) generate novel assays for gene discovery and function of diseases associated with the adrenal gland. Potential syndromes to look at include Allgrove syndrome and Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome. Assays will include gene knockdown by morpholino or CRISPR/Cas9 and measurement of adrenaline and noradrenaline levels.

3) carry out a small molecule enhancer/suppressor screen on an adrenal gland Xenopus model line generated by the student. 

The student will gain skills in molecular biology, embryology, in vivo biology and chemical biology. In addition, training for transverse skills in outreach and industrial managements are deeply embedded in the ITN programme.

The start date is flexible and it will be possible for the successful candidate to start prior to 1 April 2020, but applicants should discuss this with Dr Wheeler in the first instance.

Interviews will be held week commencing 6 January 2020

Person Specification: Acceptable first degree in Biological Sciences, Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Biology.

The standard minimum entry requirement is 2:1. 

Funding notes: This project is awarded with a 3-year PhD scholarship through the Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions - Innovative Training Networks (ITN) Programme (No. 860635, pending Grant Agreement Signature).  EU applicants are eligible to apply who have not been based in the UK for more than 12 months in the last 3 years. Remuneration will be in line with the Marie Skłodowska-Curie guidelines (Early Stage Researchers, ITN).  For programme, funding information and eligibility criteria please visit:

Tuition fees are covered for UK/EU rate only (£4,327 2019/20 rate).  A living salary will be provided for each year of the scholarship.

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