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Award details

Identifying novel insulin secretion disorders caused by mitochondrial dysfunction to highlight fundamental pathways within the β-cell, Biological and Medical Sciences – PhD (Funded) Ref: 4134

About the award


Academic Supervisors:

Dr Elisa De Franco, University of Exeter

Professor Sarah Flanagan, University of Exeter

Professor Mike Weedon, University of Exeter


RILD Building, RD&E Hospital Wonford, Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Medicine and Health is inviting applications for a PhD studentship funded by Diabetes UK to commence in September 2021 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £17,000 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 RILD Building, RD&E Hospital Wonford, in Exeter.

Project Description:

This exciting Diabetes-UK funded PhD project aims to use whole genome sequencing to identify mitochondrial gene mutations in individuals diagnosed with diabetes or congenital hyperinsulinism.

Mitochondria are fundamental for insulin secretion in pancreatic beta-cells. Mitochondrial dysfunction is an underappreciated cause of genetic disorders of insulin secretion (neonatal diabetes and congenital hyperinsulinism).

The student will analyse genome sequencing data from affected individuals who have additional clinical features associated with mitochondrial dysfunction to identify novel genetic causes of disease. The genetic findings will be replicated by screening the world’s largest cohorts of individuals with diabetes, hyperinsulinism or suspected mitochondrial disease, including the Exeter cohort and through international collaborators. The student will perform phenotyping studies to clinically characterise these novel genetic disorders.

The results of these studies will provide a diagnosis for families with monogenic disease and will offer important insights into which genes affect mitochondrial function in beta-cells. This new knowledge could identify novel biological pathways and therapeutic targets important for type 2 diabetes.

This studentship offers a fantastic opportunity for a highly motivated individual to join a growing, interdisciplinary team of laboratory scientists, computer scientists and clinicians working on a broad range of diabetes-related research within Exeter. Whilst in Exeter, the successful applicant will be fully supported to develop computational and molecular genomics skills, whilst focussing on clinically relevant questions which will impact the lives of people living with disorders of insulin secretion. Developing these multi-disciplinary skills will allow the student to bridge-the-gap between large-scale data analysis and clinical impact, acting as a springboard for a successful career in diabetes research.

Please contact Dr Elisa De Franco informally for more details by email

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £17,000 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

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, such as biomedical science, genetics, computer science, mathematics, or a related field. Knowledge of Python, R or similar language 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

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 May 9th 2021.  Interviews will be held virtually in the week commencing on May 17th.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers)  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.


Application deadline:9th May 2021
Number of awards:1
Duration of award:per year
Contact: STEMM PGR Admissions