Understanding the effects of ageing upon inflammatory-invoked gastrointestinal sensory signalling processes


Qualification type: PhD

Subject area: Pharmacology and Physiology

Location: Hatfield

Start date: March 2022

Closing application date:  20 January 2022

Duration of studentship:  Three years (full-time)

Project outline

The selected PhD student will be required to undertake a series of studies addressing the effects of ageing upon gastrointestinal sensory signalling processes invoked by inflammatory stimuli.

The project will involve using a multi-disciplinary approach to investigate whether the process of ageing diminishes the ability of gastrointestinal sensory signalling pathways to respond to inflammatory mediators.

Training will be provided in all areas of this project. The ideal candidate would be someone who is interested in visceral sensation from both a clinical and ‘bench-research’ aspect and who is interested in developing this as a possible future career choice.

Key responsibilities and duties

  • you will use a range of in-vitro biochemical, physiological, and pharmacological techniques to characterize the impact of inflammatory stimuli upon the development of visceral hypersensitivity in the aged murine GI tract.
  • you will develop physiological assays to record afferent nerve activity from gastrointestinal segments, and perform immunocytochemical staining (ICC) and calcium imaging studies to characterise the effects of inflammatory stimuli upon the expression and function of candidate ion channels expressed on dorsal root ganglion cells.
  • in addition to the lab-based experiments, this project will use biopsies taken from inflammatory bowel disease patients (candidate can choose to become involved in this part of the project if they so wished).

Further opportunities and benefits

This is a collaboration between the School of Life and Medical Sciences at Herts and the Clinical Research Team at the Lister Hospital, Herts and as such there will be an opportunity to become involved in the clinical aspects of this project too. This project provides an excellent opportunity to develop training in a range of complex in-vitro physiological and pharmacological techniques and will help the successful candidate develop sought after transferable skills to progress within the field of sensory physiology.

Successful completion of the first year will require the submission of a scientific report, research proposal and an oral examination.

Project background

Ageing is associated with diminished gastrointestinal sensory signalling processes including a diminished sensory response to inflammatory evoked gastrointestinal injury. Since these nociceptive sensory processes are a key consequence of disease or tissue injury, their attenuation with age has consequences for disease diagnosis, progression and prompts for patients seeking medical advice. The mechanisms underpinning the age-associated attenuation of sensory perception, particularly in the context of visceral inflammation, is largely unknown but we hypothesise that the diminished perception of visceral injury occurs because of age-related dysregulation towards the inflammatory milieu that blunts the development of visceral hypersensitivity. This project will investigate this hypothesis by performing a series of experiments in which the impact of ageing upon the ability of the GI tract to develop visceral hypersensitivity in response to inflammatory stimuli will be tested.

Supervisor information

  • Dr Chris Keating, Principal Lecturer, pharmacology
  • Dr Jo Brooks-Warburton, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Senior Lecturer.

Entry requirements


Academic and residence

  • first class or upper second-class Honours graduate (BSc) or MSc in the area of Biomedical Sciences / Neuroscience / Biological Sciences
  • IELTS 6.5 (or above with no less than 5.5 in any band) /TOEFL 79 (if international student). Please note, International students are required to contribute partially towards any University fees difference that a home student is entitled to
  • please refer to the regulations or Annex 1 of the Research Council Training Grant Guide to confirm that you meet the residence criteria for a fully-funded studentship.  Any further queries in relation to residency must be directed to the institution.


  • previous knowledge and hands-on experience in one of the following techniques: afferent recording, calcium imaging and ICC.

How to apply

Applicants must provide the following:

  • a completed application form (PDF - 0.25 Mb)
  • two academic references to be provided by referee directly to the doctoral college
  • copies of qualification certificates and transcripts
  • a copy of your passport photo page
  • certification of English language competence (minimum IELTS 6.5 or equivalent) for candidates for whom English is not their first language
  • a copy of your CV.

Please email completed applications and a copy of your CV to the Doctoral College

The closing date for applications is 20 January 2022. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an online interview early in March 2022. If you have not had a reply within three weeks of the deadline, you have unfortunately been unsuccessful on this occasion.

If you have a informal enquiry, please email Dr Chris Keating or Dr Jo Brooks-Warburton. Please note that applications sent directly to these addresses will not be accepted.

Funding information

The award includes cover for UK home tuition fees and subject to eligibility a stipend at standard RCUK rates.

The funding covers a three-year PhD, which covers:

  • a stipend at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,609 per annum for 2021-22*
  • research and training costs
  • tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate)
  • additional funds to support a conference attendance (typically in your final year).

*A stipend that starts at £15,609 per annum plus approved expenses. All students will also receive a maximum contribution towards their individual tuition fees that is equivalent to the home fee in each year of registration.