UCL Institute of Ophthalmology


Retina UK and Macular Society funded Three-Year PhD Studentship

We are welcoming applications for a three-year PhD studentship funded by Retina UK and the Macular Society. Closes Wednesday 23 August

UCL Department / Division: UCL Institute of Ophthalmology

Duration of Studentship: Three years, available to start in Autumn 2023

PhD Title: Investigating gene editing for the treatment of a childhood-onset blinding disease using stem cells

Supervisor(s): Professor Jacqueline van der Spuy and Professor Mike Cheetham

We are offering a full-time, three-year PhD studentship to investigate gene editing for a disease that severely affects vision in younger people. This proposal will take advantage of exciting state-of the-art advancements in gene editing technology and stem cell biology to advance the therapeutic options for this currently incurable condition.  

We will use a bioinformatics approach for the optimal design of the gene editing components followed by in vitro molecular and cellular biology tools to optimise the gene editing approach. We will also develop a human disease model using stem cell technology. For this disease model, the disease-associated genetic variations of interest will be introduced into human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) by gene editing. These iPSC will be differentiated into the tissue and cell types affected in the disease, including two-dimensional retinal pigment epithelium and three-dimensional retinal organoids. The effects of the causative genetic variations will be investigated in these disease models, enabling a deep understanding of the pathogenic mechanisms underlying the disease. Finally, we will assess whether the optimised gene editor can be delivered efficiently to the disease models and correct the genetic change to rescue the disease phenotype. This will allow proof-of-concept evidence for gene editing as an appropriate therapeutic strategy for the disease. 

The project will employ a wide range of skills in molecular and cell biology and will require a dedicated researcher with strong technical and analytical skills, and a deep interest in translating fundamental insights into therapeutic advances.

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a minimum upper-second degree or equivalent in an associated subject in the biomedical or life sciences. A Master’s degree or previous lab-based research experience is desirable.

Duties and Responsibilities 

The successful candidate is expected to:

  • Develop a deep understanding and knowledge of the current literature relevant to the project and ensure continuous critical review of the literature throughout the project
  • Develop, apply and advance the required expertise, technical and analytical skills to successfully achieve the desired research goals
  • Keep precise, well-organised and detailed records of all research
  • Work in close collaboration with the supervisory and thesis committee panels to develop and advance the research goals
  • Work in collaboration with other researchers
  • Prepare progress reports, research updates and presentations
  • Meet all deadlines in a timely manner
  • Travel for collaboration, meetings or conferences
  • Prepare manuscripts for submission to international peer-reviewed journals
  • Contribute to the overall activities of the research team and department, and be aware of UCL policies

Person Specification 

  • A good degree (2.1 or above; or equivalent EU/overseas degree) and/or MSc in an appropriate field (biomedical or life sciences)
  • Experience in molecular and cellular biology 
  • Experience with statistical methods
  • Experience with software packages and bioinformatics tools
  • Experience of image processing
  • Excellent methodological, technical and analytical skills
  • Excellent project planning, time management and organisational skills
  • High proficiency in written and spoken English
  • Very strong work ethic, with the ability to think creatively and work both individually and within a team
  • Ability to work towards set deadlines
  • A commitment to the highest standards of research integrity

Informal enquiries should be made to Professor Jacqueline van der Spuy (j.spuy@ucl.ac.uk).

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

Shortlisted candidates will be contacted directly for interview. 

The successful candidate is expected to start in Autumn term 2023, with some flexibility with regards to start date. 

Funding Notes
This studentship is funded for three years by Retina UK and the Macular Society, and includes UK UCL PhD tuition fees, laboratory costs and an annual salary stipend starting at £22,000.

The full studentship (tuition fees and salary stipend) is eligible to all UK nationals and some EU nationals depending on their settlement status. Only UK Home rate tuition fees can be covered.

Applicants who will incur international fees are welcome to apply but they must show that they can supplement the difference between UK and international fees in their application.

Application deadline: 23 August 2023
Proposed interview date: TBC