PhD Studentship in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences (Fixed Term)

University of Cambridge

United Kingdom


As part of a BBSRC-funded Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP) coordinated by Eli Lilly and Company Ltd we have a 4-year fully-funded PhD position available. The project will aim to determine the mechanisms of alpha-synuclein related progressive neuronal death and determine whether inflammation could contribute to the demise of neurons in an alpha-synuclein transgenic mouse model. These mice express human truncated 1-120 alpha-synuclein under the TH promoter, they show progressive alpha-synuclein aggregation associated with striatal dopaminergic dysfunction starting from the age of 6 months and nigral dopaminergic neuronal death becoming significant from the age of 12 months. In addition to the mouse model, primary cultures from the mice will be used to determine in vitro the communication occurring between neurons and microglia or astrocytes as has been demonstrated for transgenic mice expressing human tau (Sydorik-Wergzynowicz M et al. 2017; Brelstaff J et al. 2018).

The study will be extended to human cerebral organoids where it will be determine how aggregation of alpha-synuclein can affect neuronal function over time, using both human IPSC-derived neurons from control subjects or from patients with the triplication of the alpha-synuclein gene in which the presence of progressive alpha-synuclein aggregation is observed (Whiten D et al. 2018). The cerebral organoid models will be used to investigate whether slow progression of spontaneous aggregation or fast aggregation promoted by alpha-synuclein seed injection lead to neuronal death and determine the contribution of microglia or astrocytes to this process. Results will then be validated using human brain tissue.

Students will develop these novel models and apply a range of biochemical (e.g. MSD or Simoa), molecular biology (RNASeq) and high content imaging (e.g. Operetta) techniques to study the role of inflammation in alpha-synuclein related progressive neuronal death.

The successful student will develop skills in biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, data analysis and statistical modelling. An academic background in mathematics, statistics, or computer science would be an asset; students from other scientific disciplines who have a numeric aptitude and a strong interest in developing those skills will be welcome to apply. The student will be based in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Clifford Albutt Building, Cambridge. The supervisor's research group is a dynamic interdisciplinary team that explore mechanisms leading to neuronal death and clinical phenotype in neurodegenerative diseases. The student will also be in close proximity to one of the UK Dementia Research Institute and the MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

The studentship will be part of the wider GERAS Collaborative Training Partnership, a BBSRC-funded Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP) between the Eli Lilly and Company Ltd, Exeter University and King's College London. Between 2017 and 2023, the CTP will deliver 11 four-year studentships in priority areas of Bioscience for health, World class underpinning bioscience, and Exploiting new ways of working. The research area of GERAS is focused on the biological basis of lifespan and healthy ageing, particularly ageing and the brain. The primary objective is the data-driven generation of new knowledge on the development and maintenance of health across the life course with the long-term objective of promoting health in later life. The training focus of the CTP is on the skills needed to understand complex biological systems from a data perspective, with core training in Bioinformatics, Programming and Coding, Statistics, and Data Science alongside professional skills training. The CTP will provide PhD students with a first-rate, challenging research training experience within the context of mutually beneficial research collaborations.


Professor Maria Grazia Spillantini

Entry requirements

Applicants should have (or be expected to obtain) a 2:1 or 1st class honours degree in a relevant scientific discipline

Award type and eligibility

Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and an enhanced stipend of £18,296 (2017/18 level) [tax-free] for 4 years for UK/EU students subject to eligibility criteria (below). Please read the eligibility criteria carefully before applying.

Studentship Criteria - This BBSRC award is available to UK/EU applicants, only. EU students are only eligible for a full studentship if they have lived, worked or studied within the UK for three years prior to the funding commencing. More information can be found on the BBSRC website.

This is a fully funded, 4 -year PhD studentship commencing 1st October 2019. To be enrolled on the PhD programme, applicants should have (or expect to obtain) at least 2:1 honours degree or equivalent.

Applications should be made via the standard admissions procedure on the University's Graduate Admissions website ( ) please select Michaelmas Term (October) 2019 as the start term.

Please include Professor Maria Spillantini as the Supervisor's name on application and the reference number - ZE18732. There is no need for a research proposal but a brief summary of what you want to work on will be sufficient under "Research Summary".

Deadline for applications for this studentship is 24 May 2019. There is a fee of £60.00 to apply which is not refundable.

Interviews are likely during week commencing 24th June 2019.

Any queries relating to the application process should be sent to Shannon Tinley- Browne at

Please quote reference ZE18732 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The University actively supports equality, diversity and inclusion and encourages applications from all sections of society.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.

In your application, please refer to


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