125th Anniversary Scholarship in Clinical Immunology Services

A new PhD scholarship for Black British Researchers in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences

PhD Project: Transforming the development and use of diagnostics to optimise and accelerate clinical care pathways.

This PhD project will be based in the Clinical Immunology Service which is part of the Institute of Immunology & Immunotherapy in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences.

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

About the project

Background and rationale:

In vitro diagnostics (IVDs) are tests that can detect disease, conditions, and infections; IVD results are central to 70% of all clinical and treatment decisions. IVDs have the potential to accelerate patient pathways, reduce hospital stays, facilitate targeted treatment schedules, and support patients to maintain their own health. Rapid expansion of testing technologies, data and deep learning solutions offer the opportunity to progress precision medicine and optimise the use of IVDs for patient and health care benefits. The adoption of IVDs within clinical pathways is slow and creates a barrier to innovation within health care. A key cause of this is a disjointed approach that fails to integrate academic, clinical and industry expertise from the outset. There is also a failure to exploit data to identify where diagnostic innovation could yield the greatest impact. As a result, IVDs are rarely designed for a specific pathway and many diagnostics are developed that have no clear plan to adoption. To address this, we need a new model that clearly identifies the role of IVDs in patient care and matches the development of IVDs to meet the needs of end-users. The PhD scholar will help to shape and trial this new approach in practice.

Objective 

To develop a new model for the development of IVDs that will enable their accelerated implementation into clinical practice to deliver patient and health care impact.

Aims

  • Investigate how data can be used to help map care pathways and understand where a diagnostic test could potentially transform or improve a clinical pathway.
  • Determine required properties of a diagnostic test to meet the pathway/need.
  • Develop a worked solution in the laboratory, choosing an appropriate technology for the pathway, taking into consideration cost, time, and staff resource.
  • For the identified solution, generate proof of concept and feasibility data.

Research Plan

  1. Investigating the use of data to identify care pathways and the feasibility of using data to test if a new or alternative diagnostic is likely to have value within a pathway. This will tap into existing data initiatives geared towards revealing unmet needs for innovation. The main output will be the identification of a pathway/s that could be improved through a new or repurposed IVDs.
  2. Engage with the NHS and patients to explore the identified pathways further and help ratify where and how a diagnostic test could improve a clinical pathway. Investigate the current testing rationale and establish the required specifications a diagnostic would need to fulfil to enable its adoption.
  3. Design a target product profile for a new or repurposed diagnostic. The diagnostic solution will be matched to the meet the bespoke need and pathway identified in phases 1 & 2, selecting the most appropriate technology platform. Initial proof of concept for the test will be generated in the laboratory.

Impact

The project will act as a template and applied to the future scoping and development of a broad range of novel IVDs and medical technologies. This will provide an evidence base to enable a step-change in the use of diagnostic technologies in patient pathways within Birmingham Health Partners supported infrastructure.

Host environment

The project will be based within the Clinical Immunology Service (CIS) at the University of Birmingham Medical School. The CIS is an interface between laboratory, industry and clinical practice and has significant IVD development expertise. Training will include interdisciplinary skills in the context of the IVD translational pathway, learning how to engage/work with key stakeholders with dedicated placements. It provides an ideal environment to conduct this novel research but also provide bespoke training to place the PhD scholar on the trajectory to become a future leader in translational research that can deliver real-world impact.

References

  1. Sensitive Detection of SARS-CoV-2-Specific Antibodies in Dried Blood Spot Samples. Morley GL, Taylor S, Jossi S, Perez-Toledo M, Faustini SE, Marcial-Juarez E, Shields AM, Goodall M, Allen JD, Watanabe Y, Newby ML, Crispin M, Drayson MT, Cunningham AF, Richter AG, O'Shea MK. (2020). Emerg Infect Dis, 26(12).
  2. How to establish an academic SARS-CoV-2 testing laboratory. Richter A, Plant T, Kidd M, Bosworth A, Mayhew M, Megram O, Ashworth F, Crawford L, White T, Moles-Garcia E, Mirza J, Percival B, McNally A. (2020). Nat Microbiol, 5(12):1452-1454
  3. Development of a high-sensitivity ELISA detecting IgG, IgA and IgM antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein in serum and saliva. Faustini S, Jossi S, Perez-Toledo M, Shields A, Allen J, Watanabe Y, Newby M, Cook A, Willcox R, Salim M, Goodall M, Heaney JLJ, Marcial-Juarez E, Morley G. et al. (2021). Immunology, 164 (1), 135-147.
  4. Development of a rapid and quantitative lateral flow assay for the simultaneous measurement of serum κ and λ immunoglobulin free light chains (FLC): inception of a new near-patient FLC screening tool. Campbell JP, Heaney JL, Shemar M, Baldwin D, Griffin AE, Oldridge E, Goodall M, Afzal Z, Plant T, Cobbold M, Jefferis R, Jacobs JF, Hand C, Drayson MT. (2017). Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, 55 (3), 424-434.
  5. Mapping inpatient care pathways for patients with COPD: an observational study using routinely collected electronic hospital record data. Evison F, Cooper R, Gallier S, Missier P, Sayer AA, Sapey E, Witham MD. (2023). ERJ Open Res, 9(5):00110-2023.
  6. Variability and performance of NHS England's 'reason to reside' criteria in predicting hospital discharge in acute hospitals in England: a retrospective, observational cohort study. Sapey E, Gallier S, Evison F, McNulty D, Reeves K, Ball S. (2022). BMJ Open, 12(12):e065862.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have a strong background in biological or medical sciences. They should have an interest in improving clinical pathways for patients through diagnostics and data as enabling technology.

Applicants will be expected to have a good Honours degree (First Class or Upper Second Class Honours degree) awarded by a recognised University in biological or medical sciences or other discipline relevant to the PhD project e.g. bioinformatics, medical sciences, biomedical technology. Study at MSc level in one of these fields is desirable but not essential. 

Who can apply?

These scholarships are designed to create opportunities and address the underrepresentation of talented Black or Black mixed heritage students in academia. Applicants who meet all of the following criteria are eligible to apply:

  1. UK nationals and eligible for registration as Home students
  2. Members of one of the following ethnic groups:
    • Black African
    • Black Caribbean
    • Black Other
    • Mixed – White and Black Caribbean
    • Mixed – White and Black African
    • Other mixed background (to include Black African, Black Caribbean or Black Other)
  3. Not already enrolled on a PhD programme at the University of Birmingham

What does the scholarship provide?

  1. Financial Support: Recipients of these scholarships will receive substantial financial support, including a stipend at UKRI rates, which is set at £18,622 per year. This support covers tuition fees, living expenses, and research-related costs, including bench fees. This support is designed to alleviate the financial burden often associated with pursuing a doctoral degree.
  2. Mentorship and Guidance: Scholarship recipients will benefit from mentorship opportunities and guidance from accomplished faculty members who are dedicated to helping them succeed in their academic and research endeavours.
  3. Research Opportunities: We are committed to providing an exceptional research environment. Students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge resources, and a vibrant scholarly community.
  4. Community Building: A key component of the scholarship programme is the creation of a supportive community of Black British researchers pursuing PhDs. This network will foster collaboration and peer support among scholars.
  5. Research Training Support Grant: In addition to financial support, scholarship recipients will receive a research training support grant. This grant is intended to support conference attendance, fieldwork, and other essential activities that enhance their research and academic growth.
  6. Commitment to Inclusivity: We are dedicated to building an inclusive academic environment that values diversity and ensures equitable access to education.

Contact the lead supervisor

Once applicants have familiarised themselves with the above project details, they are encouraged to contact the lead PhD supervisor to discuss the project and the applicant's suitability for the project. This is recommended before you submit an application to the PhD project.

How to apply

After applicants have made contact with the lead PhD supervisor, you will then need to apply to the PhD project using our online application portal: you should select '125th Anniversary Scholarships (MDS)'. You will need to create an account for the online application portal and you will be prompted to sign-in upon your return to the portal.

You do not need to complete your application in one session; you can save your application at each stage and return to the portal at any stage before submission, particularly if you do not have all of the necessary documents when you begin your application.

As this is an 'advertised PhD', in which you will studying the above project that has already been provided by the academic supervisor(s), you do not need to submit a research proposal. Your personal statement will suffice for determining your suitability for the PhD project as well as your previous academic, professional and personal experiences.

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

For your application you will need to submit the following documents:

Application portal tips

  • You don’t need to complete your application in one session. Simply save it and come back to it when you’re ready.
  • Avoid delays by checking all your information is accurate and complete.
  • Your application won’t be processed until you’ve completed all the relevant sections and submitted it.
  • If you run into any technical issues with your application, email us at directapplicationsystem@contacts.bham.ac.uk

What happens next?

Once you’ve submitted your application, we’ll send you details on how to access your applicant portal. You’ll be able to track the progress of your application, update your personal information, view decisions and accept offers.

Your application will be ‘pending’ on your portal while we check your application.

You can add or edit some details or documents within your application after it’s been submitted through your applicant portal. Or email pgadmissions@contacts.bham.ac.uk (include your applicant ID number) and we can add or edit for you.

Campus - Aston Webb

125 years of the University of Birmingham

In 2025, we’ll celebrate 125 years since the Royal Charter was granted. Founded in 1900, Birmingham represented a new model for higher education, as England's first civic university, a place where students of all backgrounds were accepted on an equal basis. One of the ways we’re celebrating this 125th anniversary is by making a significant investment in our research students. Birmingham is an outstanding place to live and carry out your research. Join us as we celebrate our 125th anniversary, and be part of our ambitious, exciting future. You will play an important part in driving the excellence of our research to make an even greater difference to the world around us.

Find out more

For more information about the scholarship programme, including announcements of available projects and the application process, please register your interest using the form below.