Establishment and Discovery of Novel Ophthalmic Biomarkers in neurodegenerative conditions, Diabetes and Vascular Medicine – PhD (Funded) Ref: 3393

About the award


Dr Mitra Tavakoli, University of Exeter

Professor Angela Shore, University of Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Medicine and Health, in partnership with Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,777 for 3 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in the College of Medicine and Health at the Wonford site (Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital) in Exeter.

Biomarkers are recognized as critical tools for the development of new therapeutics, allowing improved and better informed clinical trial design through indicators of target engagement and those that enable patient stratification.  In addition, biomarkers can facilitate the evaluation of therapeutic intervention on disease progression or recurrence.
Eyes as a window to the brain provide this unique opportunity for investigating neurodegenerative conditions. The new technologies such as Corneal Confocal Microscopy (CCM), Optical Coherence Topography (OCT) and angiography  (OCT-A) allow us the possibility of using novel ophthalmic markers as biomarkers of disease severity in hereditary neurodegenerative disorders including Huntington’s disease (HD), Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Ophthalmic findings are common features of neurodegenerative disorders and, in addition to being clinically important, have emerged as potentially useful biomarkers of disease progression in several conditions. Given the clinical ease of techniques such as CCM, OCT we seek to establish novel ophthalmic markers in patients with neurodegenerative conditions as potential biomarker for disease stratification.

Clinical evaluation, neuroimaging, and biochemical biomarkers have been extensively investigated at our target neurodegenerative conditions in particular Huntington’s disease (HD), but none has been established. At the moment, there is no specific treatment exists for this devastating disease. There is an urgent need for discovery of non-invasive, accurate surrogate biomarkers for disease progression and classification. Accurate classification is essential to identifying which tools are appropriate markers for particular individuals.

This PhD proposal will focus at discovery and establishing these novel biomarkers at these neurological conditions.  The results of this PhD study will allow us to address these with applying these novel ophthalmic biomarkers as potential endpoints and may present opportunity to initiate disease-modifying treatment. ]
Many resources are available to enable the student to make excellent progress in their studies. The project will offer the student opportunities to train in experimental medicine (clinical) research with particular emphasis in eye physiology and pathophysiology, protocol development, working with complex datasets, and engaging with research patients and participants.

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,777 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology or have a medical qualification.  Background knowledge in Medicine, Optometry and Ophthalmology is desirable.
If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least  7.0 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 
• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English
The closing date for applications is midnight on 12th February 2019.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter St Lukes Campus the week commencing 18th March 2019.
If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.
You are encouraged to talk to the supervisory team about the project if you are interested in applying, please contact Dr. Mitra Tavakoli ( or phone +44 (0)1392 723314).


Application deadline:12th February 2019
Number of awards:1
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Postgraduate Research Office