The Kennedy Trust MB-PhD Programme

Awarded to the University in November 2020, The Kennedy Trust MB-PhD programme will fund  a total of 15 (three per year for five years) intercalating PhD studentships in Musculoskeletal and Inflammatory Diseases.

Background

The Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research was founded in 1965 with a mission to achieve a meaningful impact on the development of cures and preventative treatment for musculoskeletal and inflammatory diseases. Mindful of the importance of clinician scientists and the key role they play in translating discovery into clinical benefit, the Trust launched its MB-PhD scheme in 2020.

In collaboration with the Kennedy Trust, we aim to develop the next generation of clinical academics and provide current MBChB students with an outstanding opportunity for early career research training in a dynamic, multidisciplinary, nurturing and supported environment. 

Each year we can offer three Intercalating PhD studentships (MB-PhDs) in Musculoskeletal & Inflammatory Diseases. These three-year studentships provide: A living stipend (£22k in year 1, £23k in year 2, £25k in year 3); PhD tuition fee costs, up to £13,997; laboratory consumables (£5k per year) and a training allowance of £10k.   

Deadline for applications: next round of applications will open in January 2022 

Intercalated MB-PhD

Musculoskeletal and other inflammatory diseases are common with significant morbidity and an associated reduction in life expectancy. Despite dramatic advances in the effective use of biologic and other targeted therapies there remain significant areas of unmet clinical need across many of these diseases. These include the identification of new therapeutic targets, the development of new treatments and management strategies, the development of precision medicine approaches and understanding patients’ perspectives on their disease and its treatment. The University of Birmingham has a strong track record of multidisciplinary research across a wide range of inflammatory diseases, including via its NIHR BRC in Inflammation, ranging from understanding underlying disease mechanisms  through to developing implementable solutions for patients. 

This new MB-PhD programme provides an outstanding opportunity for early career training in a dynamic, multidisciplinary environment. In addition, the delivery of high quality research outputs from these studentships (high impact publications, novel therapeutic strategies and clinical trial concepts) is strategically critical for the University of Birmingham in its partnership with the NHS. Three prestigious PhD training studentships will be awarded each year. Each fellowship provides a stipend and full funding for student fees, training costs and laboratory consumables.

Successful applicants will have a strong academic track record, will be highly motivated and have a clear vision for a future career in academic medicine.

Why do an MB-PhD?

For clinicians interested in research, it can be difficult to undertake a PhD once they have finished medical school and started practising. Completing a PhD during medical training allows students to graduate as doctors at the forefront of their field, fully equipped with the early career training required to pursue a career in clinical research.

Research areas

Inflammatory musculoskeletal diseases

Rheumatology Research Group

The overarching objective of this theme is to improve clinical outcomes for those at risk of, and living with, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), Sjögren’s syndrome (SS) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), including those with diseases refractory to current treatments.  Important areas of research include:

  • Studying pathobiology and comorbidity associated with RA, JIA, SS and SLE, as well as their epidemiology and clinical management;
  • Exploring the therapeutic targeting of the tissue microenvironment and comparing and contrasting the biological processes underpinning the development, maintenance and resolution of inflammation;
  • Comparing shared biological mechanisms in different tissues in order to develop process-driven links to other disease areas in inflammation biology;
  • Studying patient perspectives on the acceptability of interventions, and the incorporation of relevant patient outcome measures into clinical trial endpoints, to ensure that the results we generate are clinically meaningful and broadly applicable across diverse clinical settings. 

Musculoskeletal ageing

Ageing and Frailty

This aim of this research area is to understand the mechanisms underlying the age-related decline in the musculoskeletal system, including muscle, bone and cartilage that ultimately predisposes the individual to musculoskeletal disease and frailty (http://cmar.online/). Considerable emphasis is placed on the role of the age-related increase in systemic inflammation (inflammaging) and the remodelling of the immune system with age (immunesenescence). Important areas of research include:

  • The basis of age-related musculoskeletal decline and progression to disease and the factors modulating this trajectory, including cell senescence, immunesenescence, inflammation, metabolism, physical inactivity, obesity and the gut microbiome;
  • Mechanisms driving the development of osteoarthritis and inflammatory disease-related sarcopenia;
  • Pharmacological and lifestyle interventions in healthy, frail and disease populations to improve musculoskeletal health. 

Immunometabolism

Metabolism

The field of immunometabolism is one of the fastest growing areas of biomedical research, focused around the interaction between immune cells and their metabolic environment. This relationship is reciprocal – while diet can influence both response to infection and inflammatory signals, the change in local metabolism caused by chronic inflammation can alter the structure of the tissue itself. Potential disease areas of interest include chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, response to infection, ageing and delirium. Examples of research questions include:

  • How does the metabolic environment alter T cell function?
  • Does the role of lactate on immune cells vary with the disease environment?
  • What is the influence of tissue hypoxia on infiltration and function of immune cells?
  • What are the implications of inflammatory immune cell metabolism on the function of the local tissue? 

Inflammatory gut and liver disease

Gut and Liver Inflammation

The overarching objective of this theme is to improve clinical outcomes for those with inflammatory liver disease. This includes patients with immune-mediated liver disease such as autoimmune hepatitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, primary biliary cholangitis as well as other conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic hepatitis. Important areas of research include: 

  • The role of specific adhesion molecules and chemokines in the regulation of lymphocyte recruitment to the liver and gut;
  • The role of dendritic cells in regulating local immune responses in the liver;
  • The relationship between hepatic inflammation and the development and progression of injury;
  • The role of cellular therapies to ameliorate the pro-inflammatory environment. 

Inflammation and the cardiovascular system

Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences

This theme addresses the role of the vascular system and its components in the initiation and maintenance of chronic inflammation. Specific areas of research interest include:

  • Platelet biology: platelets are now recognised as important players in chronic inflammatory disease through their interaction with other vascular cells and coagulation factors.  Platelets maintain vascular integrity through regulation of neutrophils and undergo cross-talk with endothelial cells, monocytes and tissue-based macrophages, and mast cells;
  • Leukocyte trafficking and vascular biology: this investigates the process of leukocyte recruitment, how it is dysregulated in disease and the fate of the inflammatory infiltrate in acute inflammation and inflammatory mediated immune diseases, including atherosclerosis. Furthermore, we have pioneered complex co-culture adhesion assays which use tissue engineering principles to reconstruct disease microenvironments, allowing pathways of inflammatory cross-talk between the tissue stroma and the vasculature to be defined;
  • Regulatory mechanisms of angiogenesis: we have applied endothelial genomics and Ingenuity pathway analysis to discover new shear-regulated genes which influence thrombotic as well as angiogenic responses;
  • Exploring the therapeutic targeting of the tissue microenvironment and comparing and contrasting the biological processes underpinning the development, maintenance and resolution of inflammation;
  • Comparing shared biological mechanisms in different tissues in order to develop process-driven links to other disease areas in inflammation biology. 

Birmingham Acute Care Research (BACR)

Acute Care Research

Acute care is any unplanned health care contact or care escalation (from a hospital ward to intensive care).  Each year, the NHS provides approximately 110 million urgent same-day patient contacts,with the numbers rising year on year, at a cost of £17billion pounds.  Acute illnesses place a huge burden on the individual, with long-term consequences noted with even short admissions. Patients are increasingly complex, with >70% of people presenting to hospital having 2 or more long term medical conditions (LTMC- termed multi-morbidity) and 60% having 3 or more LTMC.  Despite this, our treatment pathways and approaches to disease remain focused on a single organ or disease spectrum.  The old “ology” approach can be harmful, with medications used for one acute condition harming or exacerbating another disease.  There are also opportunities lost, with poor use of potentially synergistic treatments (one drug targeting many diseases through shared mechanisms).

Acute care is focused on the person holistically, with multi-morbidity, ageing and inflammation a central theme.

Our multi-disciplinary and clinically focused experimental science is supplemented with access to highly detailed health data through the National Data Hub in acute care, PIONEER.  We also offer the opportunity to meet patients, mix with clinical academics of all grades, in a supportive and friendly environment.

We offer specific training in:

  • Acute, Respiratory, Perioperative and Critical care medicine with a major focus on inflammation in both adults and children;
  • The impact of ageing and multi-morbidity;
  • Support in accessing our curated health data and statistical analytical support;
  • Deep phenotyping of patients, from epidemiology to cutting edge bench science;
  • Utilising clinical cohorts and animal models of injury, infection and inflammation;
  • Neutrophil and macrophage biology and lung epithelial repair;
  • The lung microbiome;
  • Host/pathogen interactions. 

Inflammatory eye disease

Academic Unit of Ophthalmology

Major clinical and research interests are based around the theme of ‘Inflammatory Mechanisms in the Ocular Microenvironment’. The focus of our research is the regulation of ocular immunity, in particular intraocular inflammation (uveitis) and immunologically-driven ocular surface diseases (OSD). Our specific interests range from discovery science and how novel biomaterials or drugs impact upon wound healing and scarring, to the development of patient-driven health-related technologies to robustly quantify disease. Our multifaceted research portfolio includes:

  • Inflammatory mechanisms driving the ocular microenvironment in health and disease using molecular, cellular, ex vivo and in vivo modelling systems;
  • Identification of innovative approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics including ocular drug delivery, medical devices, biomarkers and imaging;
  • Improving and standardising clinical, patient and automated imaging outcome measurements for activity and damage reporting in early phase clinical trials and observational studies. 

Applied health science: Data science & informatics, Clinical trial design, Patient outcome & Regulatory Science

Methodological Innovations

The Institute for Applied Health Research is focused on advancing understanding of disease aetiology, identifying modifiable prognostic factors, developing, evaluating and implementing interventions that improve health management and outcomes. Relevant areas of research interest include:

  • The Centre for Patient Reported Outcomes Research. This Centre, the only one of its kind in the UK, has over 80 interdisciplinary members and has led international guidance for the use of patient reported outcomes in clinical trials, informing EMA, FDA and NICE guidance;
  • The Birmingham Clinical Trials Unit has particular expertise in early phase trials design and the development of novel methodologies which are being deployed in our inflammation focussed trials unit I-ACT;
  • Our Health Informatics portfolio includes work with Health Data Research UK and the THIN database to answer questions around disease aetiology and management. We were the first in the UK to innovate an Automated Clinical Epidemiology Studies platform enabling reproducible and transparent research which has attracted over 10 doctoral students in the last two years. 

How to apply

Number of Studentships available: Three

Eligibility: to be eligible you must have either completed four years of your MBChB or three years if you are on the Graduate Entry Course (GEC). Also, you must have completed or be completing an intercalating degree OR have completed an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject (for GEC students only).

Stipend: A living stipend (£22k in year 1, £23k in year 2, £25k in year 3); PhD tuition fee costs, up to £13,977; Laboratory consumables (£5k per year) and a training allowance of £10k.

To apply for the MB-PhD programme, please email the following information to Rebecca Birch (r.birch@bham.ac.uk): 

  • A detailed CV;
  • A personal statement detailing why you are applying for an intercalating MB-PhD in Birmingham; 
  • Outline of research interest and experience;
  • Names of two referees;
  • Project preferences (optional)

Deadline: next round of applications will open in January 2022 

Please note that if you are reliant on funding from the Student Loans Company / Student Finance England when you return to year 5 of the MBChB, you will need to delay the conferment and graduation from your PhD until you complete your MBChB.  This is in order to retain your undergraduate status and enable you to access full funding support from the Student Loans Company.

The University of Birmingham can provide a letter to confirm that all academic requirements of the PhD programme have been completed in the interim, should this be required.

NHS bursaries will not be awarded during the period of PhD study.  Upon completion of the PhD, students returning to year 5 of the MBChB will be eligible to apply for the NHS bursary.

Musculoskeletal and Inflammation Research in Birmingham

The College of Medical and Dental Sciences (MDS) at UoB has a strong international research reputation in immune mediated inflammatory diseases. MDS hosts seven research Institutes which are focused academic units in identified areas of high-performing research, each with an ambitious strategy and empowered leadership. Musculoskeletal disease research is focussed within the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing (IIA), which also includes the research themes of Ageing; Trauma; Acute Care Research; Neuroscience and Ophthalmology.

The institute now has 40 principal investigators, 50% clinicians, three with NIHR Senior Investigator awards. There is a cadre of dynamic early stage career researchers, eight of whom hold personal fellowships, to ensure continued excellence and impact.  The success of the Institute’s structure and strategy is reflected in over £30m of live funding and its five national Centres of Excellence (MRC-Versus Arthritis Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research; Versus Arthritis Centre for Inflammatory Arthritis Research; NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre; Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research; NIHR BRC in Inflammation).

The new Acute Care Research theme has been awarded one of seven UK Digital Innovation Hubs (PIONEER) and a second hub is in Ophthalmology (INSIGHT). In addition, inflammation research (frequently cross cutting with inflammatory musculoskeletal diseases) is also very active within four other research Institutes (Immunology and Immunotherapy (III)Metabolism and Systems Research (IMSR)Cardiovascular Sciences (ICVS), and Applied Health Research (IAHR)), which will also be involved with this programme. Across these research Institutes, UoB has an extensive portfolio of inflammation research with £96.3M of active awards including Charity, Government, Industry and EU/International funding.

Our application is underpinned by an exceptional range of expertise and infrastructure through the whole translational pathway: 

  • We have invested significantly in infrastructure to support our science including state of the art genomics capability including Illumina, single cell and nanopore sequencing platforms, a CyTOF facility and molecular histology (NanoString).
  • A £10M imaging suite equipped with single molecule, single cell and whole animal imaging equipment in the cross institutional COMPARE initiative with the University of Nottingham to enhance biological imaging capability.
  • The Phenome Centre BirminghamSteroid Metabolome Analysis CoreandMetabolic Tracer Analysis Corerepresent a unique array of interlinked technology platforms supporting all aspects of metabolome and metabolic analyses in health and disease.
  • The Henry Wellcome Building for Biomolecular NMR Spectroscopy is the largest open access high and ultra-high field NMR facility in the UK.

Contact us

For more information about potential projects, please contact Prof Karim Raza, Professor of Clinical Rheumatology (k.raza@bham.ac.uk).

If you have any administrative questions about the scheme, please contact Rebecca Birch at r.birch@bham.ac.uk for more information.