Investing in the researchers of the future – first PhD projects announced.

  • June 30th 2023

Training and inspiring the next generation of translational researchers is a key aim of our new NIHR Biomedical Research Centre. We hope to reach students at all stages of their research careers, from PhD students to Senior NHS Clinical Academics, helping them to realise their potential and bring benefits to the people and communities of our region by delivering cutting-edge translational research.

After a competitive process we are delighted to announce our first ever cohort of PhD students. Six students, who will begin their studies in September, have been selected to carry out projects across our core research themes under the expert supervision of leading academics.

Training lead Professor Chrissie Thirlwell said: “We’re delighted to welcome our first cohort of PhD students into the BRC family. The quality of applications was exceptional, and the future of translational research looks bright as our students set out on the next steps of their research journeys.”

Our training offer is focused around three pillars; attracting and building a robust pipeline of research talent while targeting under-represented groups; supporting career development of our workforce and offering inclusive outreach and engagement. By providing support, mentoring and resources to develop translational research careers across our five core themes and putting people and patients at the heart of what we do, we will ensure that our research benefits the people and communities we serve.

Professor Chrissie Thirlwell said: “As a BRC we aim to significantly build research capacity by supporting members of our BRC community with comprehensive career development training and mentorship. By providing tools and resources to achieve their goals, working closely with our academic career development partners across the NIHR Infrastructure, sharing best practice both at national and international levels, we can help people to realise their potential.”

Meet the students

William Newton

PhD student William Newton will be supervised by Dr Carolina Coelho on the project ‘A new link between microbial pathogenesis and dementia: establishing the role of fungal infection in potentiating Alzheimer’s disease.’

William said: ‘I’m delighted and honoured to have received a NIHR Exeter BRC PhD studentship. The opportunity to work in a new, fast-paced research environment is extremely exciting for me and will provide a strong foundation for my research career. It will also allow me to begin making positive contributions to the scientific community. The state-of-the-art facilities will give me the opportunity to learn experimental and analytical techniques which I hope to use throughout my career. Additionally, I hope to broaden my knowledge and establish long-lasting research connections through my peers and mentors from across the research themes.’

PhD student Emily Plumpton will be supervised by Dr Peter Cook on the project ‘Commensal fungi in the lung: innocent bystanders or pathogenic orchestrators of severe asthma?

Emily said: “It feels fantastic to know that the BRC and Exeter’s MRC have recognised my scientific potential and are confident that I can advance our understanding of fungal asthma. With strong ties to the Royal Devon hospital, this studentship will allow me to integrate into a community of academics, clinicians and patients – an element missing from many PhDs – and will remind me why my research is so valuable.

I hope to become an independent scientist with the confidence to ask novel and creative questions and to feel at home in the MRC, forming friendships and strong team bonds which will allow me to thrive as a researcher.”

Tania Atienzar

PhD student Tania Atienzar will be supervised by Dr Akshay Bhinge on the project ‘Identifying drug targets for TDP43 proteinopathies’.

Tania said: “The award of this PhD studentship represents a pivotal milestone in my academic and professional journey, providing an invaluable opportunity to make meaningful contributions to the field of neurodegeneration. It will grant me the privilege of working at the forefront of scientific discovery to tackle the pressing challenges posed by neurodegenerative diseases, striving for a future where their profound impact can be reduced. I am hoping to harness the guidance and resources offered by the NIHR Exeter BRC to expand my scientific knowledge, gain experience in cutting-edge techniques, and benefit from the expertise of prominent researchers through interdisciplinary collaboration. I am also excited about joining the vibrant research community at the university and interacting with other PhD students to exchange ideas, provide mutual encouragement, and celebrate each other’s progress.”

PhD student Ben Bowhay will be supervised by Dr Owen Tomlinson on the project ‘Personalised pulmonary rehabilitation: harnessing the power of cardiopulmonary exercise testing‘.

Ben said: “I’m really excited to start a PhD studentship at the NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre. I’m so grateful for the offer, it gives me the platform to focus on my studies and achieve my ambitions and opens a wide range of opportunities for me to extend my knowledge, but also the chance to develop original research within a specialist field. I’m looking forward to meeting my supervisors this summer and cannot wait to commence my PhD journey at Exeter University in September.”

Martin Frith will be supervised by Dr Emma Dempster on the project ‘Developing a genomic biomarker for the early detection of Neurodegeneration’.

Martin said: “I’m delighted to have been awarded this studentship. I’ve always strived to make real contributions to the field of neurodegenerative research and this project presents an exciting opportunity for me to do so. I can’t wait to get stuck in and conduct research that has the potential to not only further our understanding of neurodegenerative disease diagnosis, but to also really improve the lives of those affected by neurodegenerative disease.

I’m hoping to gain a wide variety of skills that will help me to become a well-rounded scientist and prepare me for a future career in academia. I’m excited to be able to use the fantastic facilities to become proficient in genetics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology research techniques and to study an area of research that I’m passionate about.”

Suhel Ahmed will be supervised by Dr Elisa De Franco on the project ‘Studying rare genetic types of diabetes to identify genes essential for survival of insulin-producing cells’.