Cohort 4


Melissa Barlow

Project Title: Exploring the molecular mechanisms underlying pre-diagnostic thrombocytosis in lung cancer patients and evaluating its diagnostic value

Lead Supervisor: Professor Willie Hamilton

I have recently graduated the University of Exeter with a degree in Medical Science (Pharmacology & Therapeutics). This involved a placement year where I researched the role of adipocytes in metastatic ovarian cancer. During my PhD, which is supervised by Professor Willie Hamilton and Dr Giordano Pula, I will be exploring the molecular mechanisms underlying pre-diagnostic thrombocytosis in lung cancer patients and evaluating its diagnostic value. This work is incredibly important as lung cancer is often diagnosed at advanced stages, whereas an earlier diagnosis may allow the patient to be amenable to curative surgery.

You can find out more about Melissa’s research by following her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


Shahina Begum

Project Title: Understanding how eating behaviours mediate genetic susceptibility to obesity

Lead Supervisor: Professor Natalia Lawrence

I studied MSc Statistics and Research Methods at University of Manchester and I previously worked as a statistician at the Division of Women’s Health, King’s College London and Guys and St Thomas Hospital. I worked on large datasets from clinical trials and observational studies primarily within the field of obesity, gestational diabetes mellitus and women’s health. I now work for a pharmaceutical consultancy as a Technical Lead in Medical Statistics, collaborating with clinicians and scientists to design and analyse real-world evidence studies. I am undertaking a PhD (part-time) at the University of Exeter and Bristol focusing on the mediation of obesity by eating behaviours – combining my interests in genetics, dietetics and biostatistics.

You can find out more about Melissa’s research by following her on LinkedIn.


Dora Bonini

Project Title:Characterisation of a membrane protein critical to Staphylococcus aureus pathogenicity and immune escape

Lead Supervisor: Dr Ruth Massey

I completed my BSc in Biological Sciences at Imperial College London with an industrial placement at GSK Worthing. I am now working at the University of Bristol, under the supervision of Ruth Massey, investigating Streptococcus pneumoniae’s virulence. Streptococcus causes a range of serious infections, including pneumonia and meningitis. These infections are sometimes fatal and treating them is still challenging due to the spread of antibiotic resistance and strain evolution. Streptococcus produces a toxin, pneumolysin, and we are studying at a protein that is likely regulating toxin production and affecting virulence. I am looking forward to diving into this project and improving our understanding of Streptococcus biology.

You can find out more about Melissa’s research by following her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Lorenzo Capitani

Project Title: Targeting LAG3+ T cells for Cancer Immunotherapy

Lead Supervisor: Professor Andrew Godkin

I completed my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences with Honours in Immunology at the University of Edinburgh, during which I undertook two summer internships. The first project was in the Gkogkas Lab (University of Edinburgh) whilst my second internship was in the Onfelt Lab (Karolinska Institute, Sweden). I also completed my undergraduate thesis research project in the Cowan Lab (University of Edinburgh) where I investigated the B cell repertoire of patients suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis. For the duration of my PhD, I will be based in the Gallimore and Godkin laboratory. Here, the aim of my PhD project will be to investigate how the inhibitory immune receptor LAG3 is involved in T cell regulation within the tumour microenvironment, particularly within the context of colorectal cancer. By advancing our knowledge of this poorly understood inhibitory receptor we should be able to lay the groundwork for the potential development of LAG3 based cancer immunotherapies.

You can find out more about Lorenzo’s research by following him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Meaghan Castledine

Project Title: Bacteria-phage interactions during clinical phage therapy

Lead Supervisor: Professor Angus Buckling

I obtained my MSci degree in Evolutionary Biology from University of Exeter, during which time my research projects primarily focussed on evolution in microbial communities. My PhD research (still based at Exeter) now focusses on bacteria-phage interactions during clinical phage therapy. Phage therapy is the use of viruses (phage) to treat bacterial diseases and is being trialled as a complement or alternative to antibiotics. The advantage of using phage is that they can evolve rapidly in response to bacterial resistance which antibiotics cannot. Additionally, evolving resistance to phage is costly for bacteria and therefore may improve the efficacy of antibiotics or the immune system in clearing infections. The aim of my PhD will be to understand how bacteria and phage are coevolving in patients with often chronic and antibiotic resistant infections. This will involve replicating coevolution in vitro (to compare in vivo), sequencing their DNA and tracking the evolution of other phenotypes such as virulence.

You can find out more about Meaghan’s research by following her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Scholar.


Ben Clennell

Project Title: Development of ultrasonic probes to modulate synaptic activity of human stem cell-derived cortical neurons

Lead Supervisor: Dr Daniel Whitcomb

I hold a BSc in Biochemistry and an MSc in Molecular Neuroscience. I have previously worked in the Biophysics team at Astrazeneca, Gothenburg, and as a research technician in the Cardiovascular Research Laboratory and the University of Bristol. My project is investigating the use of ultrasound as a novel neuromodulatory tool. Previous studies have demonstrated the neuromodulatory capacity of ultrasonic waves, however, very little is understood about the biophysical mechanisms underlying these effects. As a result, the full potential of this technique is yet to be realised. This project aims to elucidate these mechanisms through the use of patch clamp electrophysiology, quantitative imaging and computational modelling, in order to situate transcranial ultrasound stimulation as the next-generation non-invasive neuromodulator.

You can find out more about Ben’s research by following him on LinkedIn.


Andrei-Emil Constantinescu

Project Title: Risk and progression of colorectal cancer in people with type 2 diabetes

Lead Supervisor: Dr Emma Vincent

Before starting my PhD as part of the GW4 BioMed DTP, I completed a BSc (Hons) in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol. During my third-year project, I investigated the effect of type 2 diabetes drug class – gliflozins – on colorectal cancer cells using laboratory methods. Throughout the summers of 2018 and 2019 I was awarded funding to work as part of the Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU) in Bristol, where I used methods in genetic epidemiology to find risk factors for deep vein thrombosis, and to study the relationship between neutrophil counts and Malaria respectively. My PhD is based at the University of Bristol and falls under the Population Health theme. I am undertaking a project where I aim to understand why people with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. To investigate this, I will focus on the levels of circulating metabolites that are altered in people with type 2 diabetes. This will involve a mix of genetic epidemiology (particularly Mendelian Randomization), bioinformatics, and laboratory work.

You can find out more about Andrei-Emil’s research by following him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Daisy Crick

Project Title: Trauma exposure and cardiometabolic health

Lead Supervisor: Dr Abigail Fraser

I completed my BSc in Experimental Psychology at University of Bristol. I then worked as a research assistant at the University of Cambridge in the Autism Research Centre, where focus of my project was on foetal testosterone levels and autistic traits. My PhD project will investigate trauma exposure and cardiometabolic health which straddles both psychology and epidemiology.

You can find out more about Daisy’s research by following her on LinkedIn.


Dan Mihai Dorobantu

Project Title: Echocardiography, cardiorespiratory fitness and rehabilitation in paediatric congenital heart disease

Lead Supervisor: Professor Craig Williams

I am based at the University of Exeter and University of Bristol, where our team is studying exercise testing and rehabilitation in a wide array of congenital heart disease, in children and adolescents. I have completed my medical training as a cardiologist in Bucharest, Romania, undergoing several research fellowships in Bristol during this time. I will be looking at how exercise capacity, evaluated using cardiopulmonary exercise testing, correlates to cardoac function parameters, evaluated by novel echographic techniques, such as speckle tracking. Our hope is that this work will result in a better understanding of the physiology in pediatric heart disease.


Meg Elley

Project Title: Neuron-microglia interactions during neuronal network oscillations: implications for dementia

Lead Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Brown

I obtained a BSc in Psychology from Durham University and an MSc in Molecular Neuroscience from the University of Bristol. During my MSc, I became interested in studying neurodegenerative diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. I am based at Exeter University and my PhD falls under the Neuroscience and Mental Health theme. My project is aiming to understand interactions between neurons and microglia (which are immune cells of the brain) and how this relationship between the two may be implicated in neurodegenerative diseases. During my PhD I will be using electrophysiology and imaging techniques to investigate ionic mechanisms and the morphology of microglia in response to neuronal network oscillations. Additionally, I will be exploring the interplay between neuronal oscillations, microglia and Alzheimer’s pathology using in vivo imaging.

You can find out more about Meg’s research by following her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Jack Holcombe

Project Title: Uncovering novel genetic pathways that promote tissue repair and healthy aging using live-imaging and functional analyses within in vivo animal models and human genetic epidemiology

Lead Supervisor: Dr Helen Weavers

After completing my undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Sheffield, I moved up to St Andrews to study tissue repair and regeneration in amphioxus (cephalochordates) for my MSc(Res). My project at the University of Bristol, under the supervision of Dr Helen Weavers, aims to dissect mechanism driving tissue resilience and repair using the powerful model system, drosophila. Flies provide a fantastic model system to dissect complex molecular pathways due to the availability of a broad genetic toolkit and the application of live imaging techniques. Alongside this, I will take a genetic epidemiology approach to probe whether the misfunction of these tissue resilience pathways are implicated in human disease.

You can find out more about Jack’s research by following him on Twitter, ResearchGate and his blog.


Rachel Lees

Project Title: Mechanisms of treatment seeking and recovery in cannabis use disorder

Lead Supervisor: Dr Tom Freeman

I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of York, and went on to study for an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL. I spent two years as a Research Assistant in the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit at UCL working on a longitudinal study of adolescent and adult recreational cannabis use. My PhD will investigate why most people with cannabis use disorders do not seek treatment, using rich data from the ALSPAC dataset. Hopefully this will give us insight into how better to target vulnerable populations and increase treatment seeking. I will also look at a potential new treatment for cannabis use disorder using cannabidiol. I will conduct studies probing the cognitive mechanisms by which cannabidiol may reduce symptoms of dependence, using EEG and eye tracking. I am very keen on communicating science to the public, especially to adolescents to provide clear, science-based education around the effects of drug use.

You can find out more about Rachel’s research by following her on Twitter.


Jack Turley

Project Title: Modelling the cell biology of wound healing in flies and in silico

Lead Supervisor: Professor Paul Martin

I completed my MSci in Mathematics at the University of Bristol in June, 2019. In the summer of 2018, I undertook an Interdisciplinary Internship which involved a collaboration between the Mathematics and Biology departments. My research project was entitled ‘Coarse-Grained Models for Wound Healing’. I then decided to continue this work in my Master’s research project. I found this style of working very enjoyable and the area of Mathematical Biology extremely interesting. The GW4 BioMed MRC DTP was therefore ideal for me as I could combine MY interests of Mathe-matics and Biology and develop skills in experimental work. For my PhD, I am working in the Labs of Prof. Paul Martin and Dr. Helen Weavers. Additionally, Prof. Tanniemola Liverpool and Dr. Isaac Chenchiah are Mathematics supervisors. Our research focus is on the ‘Tissue Dynamics of Wound Healing’ which will involve investigating how cell shape and movements relative to one another drive wound re-epithelialisation , and how location and orientation of cell divisions alter in the vi-cinity of a wound and the effect this has on the healing or non-healing of the wound. We also have links to Prof. Keith Harding, a clinician at Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, who runs the Wound Healing Research Unit at Cardiff University and will offer us valuable clinical insights.


Lorna Ushaw

Project Title: Optimizing Adult Mental Health

Supervisor: Professor Stephen Collishaw

I completed a BSc in Psychology followed by an MSc in Research Methods in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Swansea University. I then spent a year working as a social researcher at the Office for National Statistics. I am currently studying for my PhD at Cardiff University, within the neuroscience and mental health theme of the DTP. My research focuses on identifying risk and protective factors associated with the development of depression and anxiety in adulthood among children with ADHD. The project will use the ALSPAC longitudinal dataset to model trajectories of both ADHD and mental health across time for individuals, with the aim of identifying factors which should be considered in the development of preventative interventions.

You can find out more about Lorna’s research by following her on LinkedIn.


Jiping Zhang

Project Title: Treating diabetic inflammation using AMP-activated protein kinase activators: Working with industry

Lead Supervisor: Dr Craig Bealle

I am based at the University of Exeter. My Phd project will focus on treating Diabetic Inflammation using AMP-activated Protein Kinase Activators. I graduated with a medical degree from Sichuan University before pursuing a Phd in Biochemistry in the National University of Singapore. During my Phd candidature in Singapore, I studied the cell signalling network involved in the regulation of insulin secretion and insulin secreting cell (stem cell-derived) in the treatment of type I diabetes. Following my work in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Cambridge, I took a break in my career to support my family. As I have always been particularly interested in the treatment of Diabetes, I have chosen to continue my pursuing in this area of research by studying the effect of AMP-activated protein kinase activators on diabetic inflammation.

You can find out more about Jiping’s research by following her on Twitter.

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