The Faculty of Health & Social Care Graduate School currently has a wide range of potential PhD projects available to prospective students.

Please note: there is no specific funding attached to these projects. 

Funded Studentships - usually advertised in March – April of each year.

Project theme areas include:

Cardiovascular & Metabolic HealthPsychosocial & Mental HealthEnvironmental & Occupational Health Theme

Cardiovascular & Metabolic Health Theme

  1. The impact of prescribing pharmacists on the screening and management of coronary heart disease in the community

    Coronary heart disease is a key and increasing health problem within Scotland. Pharmacists can now train and register as independent prescribers, described as being responsible for the assessment of diagnosed or undiagnosed patients and for the clinical management, including prescribing. This provides an opportunity for the pharmacist in the community to have an enhanced role in the management of coronary heart disease.

    The aim of this study is to compare CHD related outcomes in two groups of patients. Group 1 will be screened by a community pharmacist (non-prescriber) and then referred to the general practitioner for further CHD management if required. In group 2, the prescribing pharmacist will screen the patient and then offer to prescribe drug treatment and manage the patient. Methodologies will largely be quantitative

    Supervisory team: Dr Derek Stewart (principal supervisor) and Dr James McLay (University of Aberdeen)

  2. The synthesis of imidazolium derivatives as a novel class of transglutaminase inhibitors

    Transglutaminases are a family of enzymes which specialise in the cross-linking of proteins by the formation of an isopeptide bond between a glutamyl carboxamide in one protein and a lysyl Epsilon –amino group of another protein. The present study will investigate the synthesis of heterocyclic aromatic compounds to act as tranglutaminase inhibitors. These will help elucidate the catalytic site of the enzymes and may also be used to examine the cross-linking products which result.

    Supervisor: Dr Lynda Storey

  3. Targeting Histone Deacetylase Enzyme with novel Bisnaphthalimido propyldiaminoalkanes in cancer cell lines

    We propose to study in detailed the biological activity of a novel SIRT2 (histone deacetylase) inhibitor, in cancer cell lines. The IC50 value of the inhibitor against SIRT2 activity will be determined. The extent of DNA damage inflicted on cancer cells and the ability for the cells to carry out DNA repair will be studied. These will be determined by Single Cell Gel Electrophoresis (COMET assay). At non toxic drug concentrations, the expression of tumour suppressor p53 gene will be studied using RT PCR methods and the effect on microtubules formation determined. All the above assays play a critical role in the activity of SIRT2 enzyme.

    Supervisory team: Prof. Paul Kong Thoo Lin, Dr. Giovanna Bermano, Dr. Marie Goua

  4. Natural Products designed Anti-inflammatory Therapeutics

    The production of prostanoids has been linked to inflammation leading to the development of many colonic cancers. Here we propose to design a platform of novel molecules by combining two synergistic common natural products which act on the molecular pathway of inflammation without targeting Cox-2. This project will involve (i) The chemical synthesis and characterisation of our novel platform of compounds based on vanillin heads and polyamine linkers (ii) carrying out cell viability assay on the new compounds and controls (iii) Bio-activity selection based on the ability to reduce inflammatory markers, with absence of Cox-2 selectivity.

    This project will be done in collaboration with Aberdeen University, Rowett Research Institute.

    Supervisory team: Prof. Paul Kong Thoo Lin, Dr. Marie Goua

  5. Body Composition and shape modelling using 3D scanning, ultrasound and air displacement plethysmography (BODPOD)

    Clinical research attributes health risk to visceral fat accumulation, but this requires expensive medical imaging to investigate. This inter-disciplinary project will predict visceral fat by using the above three technologies to create an integrated body composition model which will be able to predict surface and visceral adipose tissue volume. 3D laser scanning will be used to acquire digital shape models via rendering into a polygon mesh. On this template the superficial adipose tissue depth measured by ultrasound at various body regions will be embedded, creating a new model of variable superficial adipose tissue thickness.

    The BODPOD enables the total volume and fat content of the body to be measured, and using this we can estimate total adipose tissue volume, from which the superficial adipose tissue can be subtracted, creating a visceral adipose tissue model which is affordable and avoids ionising radiation. RGU houses all the required facilities for this project, which aligns with the Cardiovascular research theme

    Supervisory Team: Dr Arthur Stewart and Prof Patrik Holt (IDEAS Research Institute)

  6. The design, synthesis and evaluation of tissue specific, non-invasive oligopeptide conjugates as imaging agents

    Supervisory Team: Dr Graeme Kay, Dr Alberto di Salvo, Professor Cherry Wainwright

  7. The design, synthesis and biological evaluation of novel nitric oxide-donors and their use as nutrapharmaceuticals

    Supervisory Team:
    Dr Graeme Kay, Professor Cherry Wainwright, Dr Marie Goua, Dr Derry Mercer (Novabiotics)

  8. Studies on the mechanisms of cannabinoids in atherogenesis

    This project will take an integrated approach involving both in vitro studies using cultured macrophages, smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells, and an in vivo mode of atherogenesis.

    Supervisory Team: Professor Cherry Wainwright & Dr Marie Goua

  9. The role of the orphan receptor GPR55 in cardiovascular physiology & disease

    There are two potential projects in this field. The first project will explore the role of GPR55 in the response to acute myocardial ischaemia in a mouse model with a gene deletion for the GPR55 receptor. The second project would study the role of GPR55 in atherogenesis utilising a double GPR55/ApoE knockout mouse model.

    Supervisory Team: Professor Cherry Wainwright & Dr Sarah Walsh

  10. Mechanisms of the cardioprotective effects of cannabinoids –from the isolated cardiomyocyte to the in situ heart

    The role of endocannabinoids, and the relative importance of the CB receptor subtypes on which they act, in regulating the outcome of myocardial ischaemia will be explored using a combination of an in vivo model of acute myocardial ischaemia for assessment of both their antiarrhythmic and damage reducing effects, and freshly isolated cardiomyocytes to determine their effects at the level of the mitochondria using fluorescent imaging techniques.

    Supervisory Team: Professor Cherry Wainwright, Dr Sarah Walsh, Dr Stuart Cruickshank

  11. Cannabinoids as novel anti-platelet agents – an investigation into their mechanisms in normal and hyperglycaemic conditions

    A combined in vitro and ex vivo approach will be used to determine the effects of cannabinoid ligands on whole blood platelet aggregation and expression of platelet adhesion molecules.

    Supervisory Team: Professor Cherry Wainwright & Dr Marie Goua

  12. Investigation of the role of the hypoxia inducible factor type 1 HIF1 alpha in wound healing in diabetes mellitus

    Diabetes is a debilitating condition that is associated with a range of vascular complications leading to morbidity and mortalities. A poor wound repair mechanism is evident and a significant factor in care management of the diabetes community. This project will investigate the role of the transcription factor, HIF1 alpha as this is known to play a significant role in conditions of low oxygen tension within a wound. Cellular and molecular techniques will be used during the project.

    Supervisory Team: Dr Rachel Knott, Dr Marie Goua and Dr Giovanna Bermanno

  13. Investigation of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on the efficacy of transport proteins associated with oral hypoglycaemics

    Oral hypoglycaemic therapy provides an important therapeutic option for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Recent evidence has indicated that the varied response within this patient group may be due, in part to the existence of SNPs on transporter proteins.

    This project will investigate the significance of these changes using molecular biology and gene cloning technology to identify significant markers of potential therapeutic impact.

    Supervisory Team: Dr Rachel Knott, Dr Giovanna Bermano and Dr Winifred Eboh

  14. Development of cellular knockout models for use in drug testing

    Current screening of therapies for genetic models of disease relies upon the availability of human derived cell samples from affected individuals. The screening process would benefit greatly from the wider availability of cell types that have a similar phenotype to the relevant disease.

    We will 'knock-out' the expression of specific genes in distinct cell populations, characterise the cells and determine their ability to be included in drug toxicity screening.

    Supervisory Team: Dr Rachel Knott, Dr Graeme Kay and Professor Don Cairns

  15. Buccal delivery of peptides using modified polyelectrolytes

    Peptides cannot be administered therapeutically through the oral route unless they can be chemically modified to protect against chemical/enzymatic degradation and improve absorption across the GI epithelium. Therefore alternatives have been sought. One route which is promising, but has received little attention, is the buccal route.

    It offers a more benign environment than the GI tract for peptide delivery in terms of chemical/enzymatic stability and a site for prolonged release over a number of hours. The project would involve producing and using modified polyelectrolytes, e.g. modified forms of chitosan, for use in formulation of buccal tablets/patches for controlled delivery of a peptide, e.g. insulin or salmon calcitonin.

    This work could also be carried out with small drug molecules, e.g. propranolol, which undergo first pass when delivered orally, but require frequent administration as they treat chronic conditions.

    Supervisor: Dr Colin Thompson

  16. Project Title: Metabolic regulation of pulmonary vein compliance

    Metabolic syndrome is associated with an increased cardiovascular risk. Vascular remodelling alters vessel compliance and so impacts on blood pressure. Regulation of the extracellular matrix occurs via matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) that are in turn regulated by tissue inhibitors of MMP (TIMPs). Metabolic insult (hyperglycaemia, hypoxia or inflammatory mediators) alters plasma levels of MMPs and TIMPs over a matter of hours.

    Previous work has established that metabolic syndrome is very clearly associated with the development of pulmonary venous hypertension associated with heart failure and hypoxaemia, associated with differential superior and inferior PV blood PO2. However, it is not clear what cellular effectors are responsible. Acute insult affects pulmonary vein (PV) function and we have recently identified hypoxia-induced inhibition of ion channel function. However, how long-term insults affect functional responses to hypoxia and importantly vessel compliance is not known. This project will determine the effects of metabolic insult on 5th-7th order intrapulmonary vein segments from superior and inferior PV, maintained under pressurised conditions. Using pressure myography, we will determine the effects of elevated pressure, hyperglycaemic conditions and hypoxia on functional responses of the PV to established pro-contractile stimuli.

    The project also will enable perfused vessels to be fixed and stained to determine any alterations in collagen content/distribution. In addition, samples will be examined for changes in collagen cross-links that may provide an index of vessel wall tensile strength. The proposed studies are designed to determine metabolic regulation of PV compliance, potentially identifying functional correlates with remodelling.

    Supervisory team: Dr Stuart Cruickshank, Dr Emma Hector, Dr Iain Rowe

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Psychosocial & Mental Health Theme

  1. The psychosocial impact of iron chelation therapy amongst thalassaemics: A comparative study.

    Beta thalassaemia major results from a genetic defect that prevents the body from producing sufficient functional red blood cells resulting in the need for monthly blood transfusion for the rest of the affected person's life. The blood transfusion saves lives but it has a complication of overloading the body with iron which if not removed will deposit in major organs and eventually lead to death. There are various options of removing this excessive iron but one of the most commonly used is the infusion of a drug desferal over 10-12 hour period for anything from 5-7 nights a week.

    This treatment starts in childhood and compliance in early teens and through adulthood has been shown to be one of the most important factors in morbidity and mortality from this condition. Understanding the psychological impact of this treatment within the different cultural context may help in providing the right type of care package and improve prognosis in the long term.

    Supervisory team: Dr Win Eboh, Dr Susan Klein & Dr Nicky Thomas (St Thomas's Hospital London)

  2. Understanding non-compliance to iron gelation therapy: gaining insight into factors that influence decision making – A phenomenological study.

    See above for background to this study.

    Supervisory team: Dr Win Eboh, Dr Susan Klein & Dr Nicky Thomas (St Thomas's Hospital London)

  3. Assessing the health benefits of alcohol intervention amongst pregnant women.

    Despite the known risks, systematic screening of, or intervention for, women who drink alcohol during pregnancy is relatively rare. This longitudinal case-control study aims, through prospective evaluation, to; a) measure alcohol consumption in pregnancy, and b) compare the psychological and health benefits, to both mother and infant, of a brief alcohol intervention or alcohol screening compared to routine antenatal care. The sample will be assessed by means of standardised self-report measures at 8 and 28 weeks gestation and 3 months post-partum.

    Supervisory team: Dr Katrina Forbes-McKay, Dr Sarah Henderson and Dr Susan Klein

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Environmental & Occupational Health Theme

  1. Wound healing technologies.

    Overuse of antibiotics and dressing of chronic wounds are two important risk factors that increase the likelihood of people acquiring debilitating and potentially lethal infections. Improper use of systemic antibiotics not only increases the risk of organ damage but encourages the emergence of resistant bacterial phenotypes. Early signs of infection in a wound bed are therefore best treated topically with accurately targeted and controlled amounts of antimicrobial agents.

    This project aims to develop effective topical delivery systems for the precise application of minimum biocidal concentrations of antimicrobial compounds using a combination of modern drug delivery methods and microbiological testing.

    Supervisory Team: Dr. Kerr Matthews (Pharmaceutics), Dr. Andrew Lamb (Microbiology), Dr. Colin Thompson (Pharmaceutics)

  2. New Antibacterial Agents: Inhibitors of the Bacterial Fatty Acid Biosynthesis Pathway

    Resistant strains of pathogenic bacteria are on the increase, putting pressure on today's health care systems. The present study will investigate the synthesis of heterocyclic aromatic compounds with a view to producing new potential inhibitors of the bacterial fatty acid biosynthetic pathway. We will aim to synthesise a range of compounds in order to build up a concise Structure-Activity Relationship (SAR).

    Supervisor: Dr Lynda Storey

  3. The design, synthesis and antibacterial evaluation of a range of substituted thiazoles.

    Dr Graeme Kay

  4. pH dependent release of small drug molecules from microparticles

    Microencapsulation affords the benefits of producing multi-unit controlled release dosage forms which are superior to their single-unit counterparts in terms of controlling drug release and avoiding dose dumping. Many drugs either have to be protected from the environment in the GI tract (PPIs) or the GI tract has to be protected from them (NSAIDs) or have a local effect in the GI tract (Treatments for IBS). One way to do this is to produce delivery systems which only release the drug above certain pHs.

    In addition certain polymers used in microencapsulation have the ability to form polymer-drug conjugates which can reduce burst release of drugs and prolong release for extended periods.

    This project would involve formulation of microparticles using a number of different polymers (polylactides and Eudragits) as well as polymer-drug conjugates (using polylactides and novel polyesters) in order to achieve pH-dependent release of a number of model drugs (e.g. indomethacin and mesalazine).

    Supervisor: Dr Colin Thompson

  5. Project Title: Development of Novel Antibacterial Therapies

    With antibiotic usage has come the plight of globally distributed antibiotic resistance effecting most bacterial pathogens. The situation continues to deteriorate and it is fully acknowledged that in addition to more effective usage of existing classes, either identification of novel therapeutics or novel selective targets are urgently required. However, the deployment of combination therapy utilising existing drugs in combination with novel agents that work with an alternate mechanism may prove to be an effective approach, as evidenced by clavulanic acid and ampicillin. Not only would this potentially lead to renewed efficacy, but this would also reduce the ability of pathogens to develop resistance.

    Projects are available for research toward PhD that will examine the antibacterial activity of both novel agents and their combinations. The analysis undertaken will utilise both standard and specialist in vitro approaches to evaluate and characterise these antibacterials.

    Supervisory team: Dr Andrew Lamb and Dr Noelle O'Driscoll

  6. Project Title: Development of a Novel Non-invasive Antimicrobial Therapy

    The traditional paradigm for treatment of an infection is the use of an antimicrobial chemical agent, delivered through either a systemic or topical route. The development and spread of resistance to these chemical agents has resulted in the consideration of alternative to this traditional chemotherapeutic approach. Within the Robert Gordon University opportunities for undertaking research toward a PhD exist in an area involving the development of a non-chemical technology that avoids use of heat or ionising radiation.

    Medical application of such technology could potentially reduce time for wound healing and certainly would be an adjunct to the deployment of novel antimicrobial wafers. The work would involve characterisation and optimisation of the technology utilising a series of traditional and specialist in vitro microbial assays.

    Supervisory team: Dr Andrew Lamb and Dr Stuart Cruickshank

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