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MRC GW4 BioMed Doctoral Training Partnership

The Medical Research Council (MRC) GW4 BioMed DTP brings together the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff (lead) and Exeter to develop the next generation of medical researchers.

Students will have access to the combined research strengths, training expertise and resources of the four research-intensive universities, with opportunities to participate in interdisciplinarity and 'team science'. Many of the PhD projects supported by the DTP will be co-supervised across at least two of the partner universities, allowing students to join existing and emerging research partnerships.


PhD projects are aligned with one of the three strategic research themes that characterise the GW4 BioMed DTP: Infection, Immunity and Repair; Neuroscience and Mental Health; and Population Health.

The portfolio of PhD projects available also reflects the collective strengths of the DTP: quantitative skills (including mathematical modelling), using data for discovery, in vivo skills, and interdisciplinary training and approaches, including imaging (physics, engineering), chemistry and health economics.


The DTP places a strong emphasis on developing these cross-cutting skills and may also fund excellent projects that sit outside the strategic themes where they focus on one or more of the skills priorities. Each studentship provides funding for 3.5 years, which may be extended where additional specialist training is integral to the project.

The training programme has three strands: research skills; professional and career development skills; and opportunities to broaden horizons, which might include placements, research visits, public engagement internships and a mini-MD programme of bespoke clinical exposure. Events throughout the programme will develop researcher communities across the partnerships.

PhD Opportunities

Epigenetic processes involved in synaptic plasticity and their association with risk for psychiatric disorders

Genetic variants associated with risk for psychiatric disorders are located in the vicinity of genes involved in synaptic plasticity. There is evidence that these variants act through regulatory processes affecting gene expression, including the epigenome. This project will look at whether epigenetic processes involved in regulating plasticity are important in conferring risk to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

Lead supervisor: Professor Jeremy Hall

To treat or not to treat: investigating the impact of antidepressant use in pregnancy

In the UK around 8% of women are prescribed antidepressants to reduce symptoms of depression in pregnancy. This project will ask whether antidepressants restore normal mood in a novel preclinical model of prenatal depression, and apply comparative bioinformatics to human placenta to examine the risks and benefits of taking antidepressants in pregnancy.

Lead supervisor: Professor Rosalind John

The connectomics of Alzheimer’s risk: characterising brain temporal network dynamics in young adults at increased genetic risk for late-onset Alzheimer's disease

Using advanced imaging and novel mathematical approaches, we will identify spatio-temporal brain networks that show altered dynamics in young adults with genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease. The PhD will provide grounding in network neuroscience — an evolving field using network theories to study the brain across multiple scales and modalities.

Lead supervisor: Dr Zhang

Glial functions of the frontotemporal dementia and motor neuron disease associated gene TBK1

Disruptive mutations in TBK1 occur in the devastating neurodegenerative disorders Motor Neuron Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia. Despite defined roles in immunity, our understanding of glial functions of TBK1 are limited. To better define glial activity of TBK1 in inflammation, phagocytosis and neurodegeneration this interdisciplinary project will combine high-throughput confocal microscopy of mammalian glia with in vivo disease modelling in Drosophila.

Lead supervisor: Dr Owen Peters

The cognitive and genetic overlap between autism and anorexia nervosa

Autism and anorexia nervosa are two distinct clinical conditions that are highly co-occurring. To better understand this overlap, the PhD will investigate the longitudinal association between cognition, autistic traits and anorexia, the shared genetic architecture of both disorders, and the causal links between them.

Lead supervisor: Dr Catherine Jones

Understanding the health implications of using different definitions of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be defined as a categorical diagnosis or as a continuous trait. Although these definitions are related, we need to better understand how they differ. This PhD will investigate the differences in developmental and clinical outcomes, as well as genetic risk factors in children with ADHD using different definitions.

Lead supervisor: Dr Kate Langley

Exploring the early genetic origins of schizophrenia at the cellular level

Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder with an unclear biological basis.

This project will combine single cell RNA sequencing technology with the latest data on genetic risk factors for schizophrenia to identify cell types and mechanisms within the developing human brain mediating genetic risk for the condition. The project will provide training in state-of-the-art laboratory and bioinformatic techniques for analysing cellular gene expression.

Lead supervisor: Professor Nick Bray

Understanding psychiatric outcomes in children born with cleft lip and/or palate using genetics

Cleft of the lip and/or palate is a common birth defect which can affect appearance, speech, hearing, dentition and mental health. This PhD will investigate risk of mental health outcomes in cleft and their genetic and non-genetic causes and provides the opportunity to develop into one of few experts globally with in-depth understanding across cleft, genetics, genetic epidemiology and psychiatry.

Lead supervisor: Dr Evie Stergiakouli


For more information and apply on the GW4 MRC DTP website

Applications will be accepted until 17:00 on Monday 23 November 2020.

The GW4 BioMed Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) scheme is funded by the MRC and provides a full UKRI stipend and full (UK) fees. The projects are all 3.5 years long. There are a number of projects led by Cardiff University.

Register your interest for future postgraduate opportunities under this scheme.