Population Health Sciences Projects

The details of the available projects for the Population Health Sciences theme are outlined on this page. You can find other projects on the Infection, Immunity, Antimicrobial Resistance & Repair and Neuroscience & Mental Health pages. A full list of our available projects can be downloaded below.

GW4 BioMed2 MRC DTP – Full list of available projects 2022-23

For full project descriptions, including contact details for the lead supervisor, click the link on the project title.

Applications to the GW4 BioMed2 MRC DTP will be accepted via this online survey until 5pm on 26th November 2021. For guidance on the application criteria and decision timeline, please see the information here.


Variation in placental structure and function, causes and consequences for mothers’ and offspring health in pregnancy and across the life course

The placenta is an essential organ of mammalian pregnancy and has been likened to “a treasure trove”, storing a wealth of information on the woman, her fetus and the pregnancy; yet it is poorly understood. The overall aim of this project is to investigate the determinants and consequences of variation in placental morphology, pathology and gene expression using ALSPAC and other cohorts, and by applying cutting edge analytical and bioinformatics methods.

Lead Supervisor: Prof Abigail Fraser
Institution: Bristol


Identifying opportunities for repurposing of approved drugs to new cancer indications using genetic and observational approaches

Using regions of the genome that influence proteins as drug proxies, the student will test if selected drugs are associated with cancer survival (a Mendelian randomization approach). Findings from the latter analyses will be replicated in a “target trial” observational study of the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, a primary care database of anonymised records in up to 16 million patients. Overall findings will be used to prioritise treatments for cancer.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Philip Haycock
Institution: Bristol


Homelessness and elimination of HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) in people who inject drugs: Building evidence for better action

People who inject drugs experience frequent homelessness which increases their risk of HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. However, the role of homelessness in driving these epidemics has received little attention. This PhD will use epidemiological methods and infectious disease modelling to determine the importance of public health responses addressing the risks associated with homelessness for tackling the HIV/HCV epidemics. among people who inject drugs.

Lead Supervisor: Prof Matthew Hickman
Institution: Bristol


Developing, evaluating and applying weighting methods for handling selection, dropout and collider bias

Most studies in medical research may suffer bias due to selection (participants are different to non-participants), or dropout (those who leave the study are different to those who remain). One way to investigate and address this bias is via inverse probability weighting (IPW), but barriers to its widespread usage remain. This project will use simulation and applied examples to develop IPW methods and software that will have a major impact across medical research.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Rachael Hughes
Institution: Bristol


Building an evidence base on diagnostic test accuracy research: a meta-epidemiological study

With an ever-increasing number of diagnostic tools available, evidence on test accuracy is critical. Results from multiple studies are summarised in systematic reviews. These are resource intensive and many of the studies found may be small and of low quality. You will fit Bayesian hierarchical models to explore associations between study features and test accuracy. Ultimately we aim to produce guidance on how reviews might be conducted more efficiently.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Hayley Jones
Institution: Bristol


Life-course influences for mental ill health: an analysis of birth cohort data from the Philippines

This interdisciplinary project provides training in global mental health and advanced epidemiological/statistical methods. Using data from a large Filipino cohort, the project will improve our understanding on life course risk factors for poor mental health/ suicidal thoughts. We know little of what contributes to poor mental health in low and middle-income countries. Engagement of policymakers will occur early to ensure that the findings result in real-life change.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Duleeka Knipe
Institution: Bristol


Framing the drug debate: identifying cognitive and affective attitudes to drug policy reform and framing campaigns to change attitudes and behaviour

The War on Drugs has failed. Legal regulation of drugs, alongside new treatment and harm reduction policies can reduce the health and societal harms caused by current drugs policy, but these changes require public and policymaker support. By working directly with drug policy advocacy organisations, this PhD uses innovative psychological approaches to examine how the framing of information can influence affective and cognitive attitudes towards drug policy reform.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Olivia Maynard
Institution: Bristol


Assessing bidirectional causal relationships between heavy menstrual bleeding and mental health: is there a role for inflammation?

This project will use genetic epidemiological approaches, including polygenic risk scores and Mendelian randomization, to examine the effect of heavy menstrual bleeding on poor mental health, and the potential role of inflammation in this relationship. Findings will shed light on the multimorbidity of menstrual and mental health and inform novel ways to predict, prevent and treat.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Gemma Sharp
Institution: Bristol


Understanding psychiatric outcomes in children born with cleft lip and/or palate using genetics

Cleft of the lip and/or palate is a common birth defect which can affect appearance, speech, hearing, dentition and mental health. This PhD will investigate risk of adverse mental health outcomes in cleft and their genetic and non-genetic causes and provides the opportunity to develop into one of few experts globally with in-depth understanding across cleft, genetics, genetic epidemiology and psychiatry.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Evie Stergiakouli
Institution: Bristol


Identifying targets to prevent early onset depression in the children of depressed parents

1 in 4 children and young people in the UK have a parent with a diagnosis of depression. This project aims to identify the reasons why children with a depressed parent may develop depression themselves (inter-generational transmission). It will use a combination of data sets to address this question (health record and detailed longitudinal data). There will be opportunities to involve young people, third sector and government organisations.

Lead Supervisor: Prof Frances Rice
Institution: Cardiff


Development of guidelines and resources to encourage and support exercise in pregnant women with type 1 diabetes

Regular exercise reduces complications in pregnant women with type 1 diabetes (T1D), but many women do not do enough exercise to get this benefit. This project will measure exercise levels and barriers to exercise in pregnant women with T1D and determine what insulin dose adjustments and carbohydrate intake is needed to exercise safely. Using this knowledge national guidelines to support pregnant women with T1D to increase their exercise levels will be developed.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Robert Andrews
Institution: Exeter


Genetic approaches to study obesity, mental health and neurodevelopmental multi-morbidity

Obesity, mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders co-occur frequently and have complex aetiology. This interdisciplinary project uses cutting edge genetics and data science to study cohorts of different age and ancestry to better elucidate this multimorbid cluster. The student will join a large multidisciplinary MRC funded team, the LIfespaN multimorbidity research Collaborative (LINC), a new initiative representing studies and expertise needed for this work.

Lead Supervisor: Prof Inês Barroso
Institution: Exeter


Using genetics to understand the links between preterm birth and lung disease in childhood

Babies who are born prematurely are more likely to develop lung disease, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. This project will combine world-class training in genetics, epidemiology and data science to test the hypothesis that genes and intrauterine exposures which lead to prematurity also lead to reduced future lung function.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Robin Beaumont
Institution: Exeter


The development of an electrical stimulation device to optimise muscle health: combining biomechanical engineering and muscle physiology to improve clinical outcomes in fully sedated ICU patients

Patients in ICU experience extensive muscle wasting, causing insulin resistance and a rise in blood glucose. Regular neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) could prevent these problems, but there is no simple device that can deliver this in the ICU. Using biomechanics and engineering approaches we will develop a ‘smart’ NMES device that can self-adjust to provide optimal muscle stimulation. We will then test this device on healthy volunteers and ICU patients.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Marlou Dirks
Institution: Exeter


Absence makes the will grow stronger? Boosting abstinence campaigns to reduce alcohol and meat consumption to improve public health

How does temporary abstinence from unhealthy consumption (e.g. during Dry January or Veganuary) lead to behaviour change? We will examine how changes in individuals’ attitudes, self-control, and identity are associated with short- and long-term reductions in consumption, along with secondary effects on household finances. The factors predictive of behaviour change will then be targeted in an intervention study to ‘boost’ the effects of abstinence campaigns.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Natalia Lawrence
Institution: Exeter


Improving cancer risk stratification using population based patient characteristics and cancer genotype

Cancer and chronic illness pose an enormous burden on population health, leading to demand on NHS services and socioeconomic cost. Genomic analysis of cancer to guide personalised therapy is now routine. There is an increased risk of developing cancer when other clinical diagnoses or anomalies in routine blood tests are present. This project will investigate the molecular profile of cancers analysed in routine care and determine the impact of chronic illness.

Lead Supervisor: Prof Chrissie Thirlwell
Institution: Exeter


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