UCL Institute of Ophthalmology


3-Year Moorfields Eye Charity PhD Studentship

We are welcoming applications for a 3-Year PhD Studentship funded by Moorfields Eye Charity. Closes 17 March.

UCL Department / Division: UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
Application deadline: 17 March 2023
Duration of Studentship: 3 years to start 25 September 2023 (negotiable)
PhD Title: Establishing the Killifish As A Novel Model For Retinal Ageing
Supervisor(s): Dr Ryan MacDonald & Prof Phil Luthert 

We offer a full-time 3-year PhD studentship to study mechanisms of retina ageing using novel killifish models and advanced cell labelling and imaging techniques. The retina is the thin layer of neurons and glia at the back of the eye that functions to detect, process, and relay a stimulus of light. However, as one ages, the physiology and structure of the retina begin to degrade, increasing the susceptibility to retinal diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. Despite a significant appreciation for the consequences of ageing on retinal health, we do not understand the causes of molecular and cellular dysfunctions with advancing age. 

Animals are widely used in many ageing studies, however ethical considerations, long lifespans (> two years) and associated costs greatly limit their usefulness. To overcome these limitations, we will use the African turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri), as a novel model for retinal ageing. The Killifish is a freshwater teleost with a conserved retinal structure and a comparatively short lifespan (4-6 months). The killifish also has a sequenced genome, is genetically tractable, and presents retinal degenerations akin to the aged human retina. The goal of this project is to generate a high-resolution cellular and molecular map of the retina throughout the entire life span, by utilising established transcriptomic datasets to identify conserved dysregulated genetic pathways and manipulate those pathways in a cell-specific manner to determine their role in neuroprotection or neurodegeneration in the ageing retina. The mechanisms discovered here could help refine our approaches to treating eye disease and/or identify novel therapies to reduce or limit the effects of ageing on the retina. 

The student will gain skills in single cell transcriptomics, histological methods (e.g. hybridisation chain reaction in situ, immunohistochemistry), semi-super resolution confocal microscopy, data analysis and retinal biology. Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a minimum upper-second degree or equivalent in an associated subject such as neuroscience, ophthalmology, vision or life sciences. A Master’s degree or previous lab-based research experience is desirable.

Duties and Responsibilities 
The successful candidate is expected to: 

  • Continue to build on and help extend our work on mechanisms of ageing in the retina (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/acel.13597)
  •  To contribute to research using experimental killifish models to inform clinical relevance of the model
  • Develop an expertise in advanced imaging: fixed samples and live imaging 
  • Carry out histology and cell labelling techniques (e.g. immunohistochemistry)
  • Work in collaboration with other researchers and develop towards research independence
  • Prepare progress reports and presentations 
  • Travel for collaboration and other meetings or conferences 
  • Prepare manuscripts for submission to international peer-reviewed scientific journals 
  • Contribute to the overall activities of the research team, department and be aware of UCL policies 

Person Specification 

  • An undergraduate degree (2.1 or above; or equivalent EU/overseas degree) and/or MSc developmental biology, neuroscience, vision science or related experience.
  • Experience in histology, bioinformatics or retinal research will be advantageous.
  • Experience or willingness to work in experimental research involving fish and imaging.
  • Experience of writing or contributing to published research.
  • Excellent analytical and methodological skills. 
  • High proficiency in written and spoken English is required 
  • Strong work ethic, with the ability to think creatively, and work both individually and within a team

How to apply
Informal enquiries should be made to Dr Ryan MacDonald at (ryan.macdonald@ucl.ac.uk) and see http://zebrafishucl.org/macdonald-lab. 

Applicants should submit an application to the Research Degrees Manager at ioo.pgr@ucl.ac.uk 

You will be required to submit a CV, a covering letter outlining motivation, interest, and suitability for this project, and contact details for two academic referees.

Enquiries relating to the application process should be sent to the Research Degrees Manager (ioo.pgr@ucl.ac.uk).
Shortlisted candidates will be contacted directly for interview. 

The successful candidate is expected to start 25 September 2023, but some flexibility with regards start date is possible.

Funding Notes
This studentship is funded for 3 years and includes UK national rate UCL PhD tuition fees, laboratory costs and an annual stipend starting at £22,000 per year, rising to £24,000 by the final year. Funding is available to cover international fee rates for a suitable applicant.

The full studentship (tuition fees and salary stipend) is eligible to all UK nationals and some EU nationals depending on their settlement status. Applicants who incur international fees are welcome to apply and funding is available to make up the difference between home and international fees. 

Application deadline: 17 March 2023
Proposed interview date: late-March 2023