iCASE Projects

Applications for 2020 entry MRC DTP iCASE studentships are now open. 

Projects for September 2020 Entry

Supervisor Details:

Co-supervisor 1A: Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke

Email: edmund.sonuga-barke@kcl.ac.uk

Website: https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/edmund.sonuga-barke.html

Co-supervisor 1B: Dr Johnny Downs

Email: Johnny.downs@kcl.ac.uk

Website: https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/johnny.downs.html

Co-supervisor 1C: Dr Jacqueline Phillips Owen

Email: Jacqueline.owen@kcl.ac.uk

Partner Details: Qbtech (https://www.qbtech.com/)

Project Description:

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is an impairing neuro-developmental disorder of self-regulation affecting around 5% of UK children. A striking sex difference in the age of diagnosis exists –females are rarely diagnosed before adolescence. One possible reason why female ADHD is missed until adolescence is that in childhood females are able, through effort and with psychological costs, to mask their problems but by adolescence this masking may no longer be possible as demands on them increase. KCL and Qbtech (a company developing objective clinical tests) will address this question by using high-tech solutions to the fine-grained monitoring of behavioural patterns and performance to identify early behavioural and cognitive markers of ADHD-related impairment in females. In year 1 there will be a training placement at Qbtech and a qualitative study of young females who struggle with self-regulation problems. In year 2 the findings from the qualitative study will be used to develop a screener for females at risk for ADHD. In year 3 a study examining sex differences in performance and behaviour in individuals at risk for self- regulation problems will be undertaken. In year 4 participants from the previous study, will be followed up to see if performance predicted the emergence of ADHD-related difficulties. Training will include – clinical interviewing and diagnosis; screening and recruiting; working with children/vulnerable populations; school liaison, test administration and advanced statistical and informatic approaches. As part of the 3-month placement in industry, the candidate will visit Qbtech to learn how to work in a fast-paced research-driven commercial environment.

Supervisor Details:

Co-supervisor 1A: Professor Guy Carpenter

Email: Guy.carpenter@kcl.ac.uk

Co-supervisor 1B: Dr Rebecca Moazzez

Email: Rebecca.moazzez@kcl.ac.uk

Partner Details: Wrigleys (https://gbr.mars.com/made-by-mars/mars-wrigley)

Project Description:

Thirst is a major driver for drinking fluids which are essential to maintaining whole body homeostasis.  Although the mechanisms for dehydration-induced thirst are well known and understood, there is relatively little data concerning thirst perception in healthy, normally hydrated, individuals. In particular, an understanding of how the perception of thirst is created in the mouth is largely unknown.  Building on our characterisation of the oral mucosal pellicle- an adhered layer of salivary mucins on the oral mucosa, which maintains the normal hydrated feeling of the mouth, our recent data suggests there is an accumulation of sodium within the mucosal pellicle.  We propose that accumulation of sodium affects the lubrication behaviour of the mucins so that they become more viscous and then sticky which we perceive as a dry mouth/ thirst.   This accumulation of sodium occurs at a steady rate at rest as saliva has low amounts of sodium (around 10 – 50 mM) so that thirst occurs periodically even in normal hydrated subjects.  Our preliminary study in patients undergoing dialysis indicated this accumulation of sodium is faster due to higher salivary levels of sodium and leads to the constant thirst perceived in this group.  This project will further explore how the accumulation of sodium in the mucus layer affects mucin rheology/ tribology and thus perception of dry mouth/thirst.  The role of the industrial partner is to supply chewing gums containing sodium chelators to remove sodium from the mucus layer.

Supervisor Details:

Co-supervisor 1A: Dr Paul Caton

Email: paul.w.caton@kcl.ac.uk

Website: https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/paul.w.caton.html

Co-supervisor 1B: Dr Gavin Bewick

Email: gavin.bewick@kcl.ac.uk

Website: Bewick Lab – KCL

Partner Details: Keratify Ltd (https://www.keratify.com)

Project Description:

Psoriasis is a skin disease that effects about 2% of the global population. People with psoriasis are more likely to suffer from other diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

Our research in this area to date suggests that proteins and fats are released from the skin of people with psoriasis, into the blood. We believe that these fats and proteins then effect the function of other organs in the body, such as the pancreas, leading to reduced insulin release from the pancreas which contributes to development type 2 diabetes.

Working out the identity of these proteins and fats could lead to development of new treatments for both psoriasis and diabetes.

The over-arching objectives of this project are:

  • To identify the proteins and fats that are released from skin during psoriasis
  • To test whether these protein or fats have any effects on function of the pancreas or other organs important for controlling blood sugar levels (e.g. fat and gut tissue)
  • To examine whether the levels of specific proteins or fats secreted from skin could be used to predict the risk of an individual with psoriasis developing diabetes
  • To examine whether specific proteins or fats secreted from skin could be targeted to develop new drugs to treat diabetes

Skills training: human skin and adipose tissue culture, pancreatic islet isolation and culture, gut organoid culture, qPCR, immunoblotting, mass spectrometry (at KCL). Business, marketing, product and software development (via Keratify placement).

Supervisor Details:

Co-supervisor 1A: Dr Ciro Chiappini

Email: ciro.chiappini@kcl.ac.uk

Website: http://chiappinilab.com

Co-supervisor 1B: Professor Giovanna Lombardi

Email: giovanna.lombardi@kcl.ac.uk

Website: https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/giovanna.lombardi.html

Partner Details: Microfluidx Ltd. (https://www.microfluidx.co.uk/)

Project Description:

Re-programming a patient’s own cells to combat degenerative diseases using cell and gene therapies (CGT) is now possible, given the success of Novartis Kymriah immunotherapy. However, the costs of such treatments remain exorbitantly high, thereby constraining the NHS to restrict its use to a limited number of patients. The expensive costs reflect the current state-of-the-art – a slow manufacturing and development process from discovery to commercialisation coupled with the necessity to use multiple equipments to perform different processes. Thus, the bottleneck exists between production and accessibility, which can be alleviated by developing a robust, scalable and closed manufacturing platform that can enable safe, low-cost treatments, and rapid development time.

Our primary goal is to develop a high-throughput bioprocessing platform based on microfluidics technology. Microfluidics – the science of microscale fluid manipulation – addresses the challenges of streamlined, high-throughput cell production by optimising fluid consumption during cell expansion. The cell culture will be performed in multi-functional microfluidic chips, which is capable of performing all the necessary standard processes for CGT (e.g. seeding, perfusion, harvest) in situ in a sealed non-invasive environment.

The over-arching objectives for each PhD years are:

  • First year: Training in microfluidics and microfabrication skills; optimisation of key chip design parameters (e.g. flow rates, channel dimensions) using experimental and numerical modelling (Comsol Multiphysics) of various parameters; Hydrodynamics of chip parallelisation
  • Second/Third year: Biological testing of prototype chip with relevant cell types (human lines and primary) to obtain data for cell characteristics (e.g. survival, proliferation, morphology, phenotype, differentiation, activation); Results will be compared with conventional methods
  • Third/Fourth year: Integration of biological testing with high-throughput chip parallelisation.

Supervisor Details:

Co-supervisor 1A: Dr Jude Oben

Email: jude.1.oben@kcl.ac.uk

Website: www.kcl.ac.uk/wh

Co-supervisor 1B: Dr Paul D Taylor

Email: paul.taylor@kcl.ac.uk

Website: https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/paul.taylor.html

Partner Details: Yaqrit Ltd (http://yaqrit.com/)

Project Description:

The United Kingdom adult population prevalence of obesity is 30% and with 30% of children – overweight or obese. Additionally, 26% of women of reproductive age are obese and one in five pregnant women is obese. We have recently shown, that the offspring of obese mothers have increased appetite, body weights, fat mass and markers of obesity-induced liver disease (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, NAFLD) compared with offspring of lean mothers. Our results have been confirmed in humans such that the children of obese mothers show increased obesity and NAFLD. NAFLD is predicted to become the commonest cause of liver cirrhosis/failure and transplantation within the next decade or less. The precise mechanism by which this trans-generational transmission of obesity and NAFLD occur remains unclear.

Obesity and NAFLD are known to develop at least partially in response to gut bacteria. Commensal bacteria are transferred between co-housed animals and can cause the transmission of both obesity and NAFLD traits. Therefore, it is likely that the transmission of obesity from mother to offspring during the peri-natal and post-natal periods is at least partially via the transmission of maternal commensal micro-organisms to the new born. This has recently been strongly supported through the use of germ-free mice and their colonisation with stools from the offspring of obese human subjects. We now seek to study this further using agents that target the pathways through which the gut microbiota act.

All iCASE projects are available as a straight 4 year PhD. Applicants may apply for one project only. You may contact project supervisors for further information about project opportunities. This does not commit a candidate to these laboratories.

When choosing an iCASE project from those available for September 2020 Entry, in the funding section of the online application from please enter the funding code ‘MRCDTP2020_’ followed by the project number that corresponds to your chosen project e.g:

MRCDTP2020_3.5

Deadline for applications: Sunday 26th April (23:59)

Interviews: w/c 25th May –  iCASE studentships will commence in September 2020. For further information please visit our application support page or contact mrc-dtp@kcl.ac.uk.