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Research Opportunities

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Prospective Students

The goal of the NIH Oxford-Cambridge (OxCam) Scholars Program is to create, foster, and advance unique and collaborative research opportunities between NIH laboratories and laboratories at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge. Each OxCam Scholar develops a collaborative research project that will constitute his/her doctoral training. Each Scholar also select two mentors – one at the NIH and one in the UK – who work together to guide the Scholar throughout the research endeavor.

Students may select from two categories of projects: Self-designed or Prearranged. OxCam Scholars may create a self-designed project, which enables students to develop a collaborative project tailored to his/her specific scientific interests by selecting one NIH mentor and one UK mentor with expertise in the desired research area(s). Alternatively, students may select a prearranged project provided by NIH and/or UK Investigator(s) willing to mentor an OxCam Scholar in their lab.

Self-designed Projects: Students may create a novel (or de novo) project based on their unique research interests. Students have the freedom to contact any PI at NIH or at Oxford or Cambridge to build a collaboration from scratch. The NIH Intramural Research Program (IRP) represents a community of approximately 1,200 tenured and tenure-track investigators providing a wealth of opportunity to explore a wide variety of research interests. Students may visit https://irp.nih.gov to identify NIH PIs performing research in the area of interest. For additional tips on choosing a mentor, please visit our Training Plan.

Prearranged Projects: Investigators at NIH or at Oxford or Cambridge have voluntarily offered collaborative project ideas for NIH OxCam Scholars. These projects are provided below and categorized by research area, NIH Institute/Center, and University. In some cases, a full collaboration with two mentors is already in place. In other instances, only one PI is identified, which allows the student to select a second mentor to complete the collaboration. Please note that prearranged project offerings are continuously updated throughout the year and are subject to change.

6 Search Results

426
Category:
Developmental Biology
Project:

Understanding placental peptide hormones

Project Listed Date:
Institute or Center:
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
NIH Mentor:

Dr. Carlos M. Guardia 

University:
Cambridge
Project Details:

The human placenta is the first organ of the embryo and it is functional immediately after implantation. Before fetal organogenesis, the placenta holds a multi-functional and unique role as a physical, chemical, and cellular barrier. It alone orchestrates the chemical communication between mother and fetus. Most of this communication is mediated by the secretion of specific placental peptide hormones (hCG, hPL, etc.) into the maternal bloodstream. Despite these hormones having developmental and irreplaceable functions, little is known about their intracellular life: synthesis, intracellular traffic, secretion, and degradation. More importantly, many pregnancy disorders are associated with lower expression and levels of these hormones in circulation, such as fetal growth restriction and preterm birth. The cell biology of these diseases is not well understood.

With the recent advance in human placenta organoid development and novel culture techniques of trophoblasts derived from stem cells, we can now finally interrogate the fundamental questions about placental hormones' intra and extra-cellular fate. In combination with the diverse set of advanced imagining methods available between the co-mentors of this project (advanced fluorescence and cryo-electron microscopy), innovative multi-omics techniques, and advanced biochemistry and cell biology approaches, we propose to 1) discover the diversity of secretory granules (SGs) expressed in and secreted from the human placenta; 2) implement a novel in vitro secretomics approach to determine the molecular machinery that regulates the secretion of the SGs and their content; 3) validate the mechanisms using human placenta and isolated trophoblasts from donated tissue and new placenta organoids culture.

The successful candidate will have the opportunity to train on several modern imaging techniques and learn about the fundamentals of placenta development and physiology while using a multi-disciplinary approach in a team of expert cell biologists from both institutions and generating impactful basic and applied research.

424
Category:
Developmental Biology
Project:

Maternal over-nutrition and obesity during pregnancy

Project Listed Date:
Institute or Center:
N/A
NIH Mentor:
N/A
University:
Cambridge
Project Details:

Maternal over-nutrition and obesity during pregnancy is known to have long-term effects on the health of the offspring, including increased risk of obesity. Weight gain in offspring exposed to maternal over-nutrition is at least in part caused by hyperphagia- implicating altered function of hypothalamic energy homeostatic pathways as an underlying cause- but the precise mechanisms by which the in utero environment impacts on hypothalamic development is unclear. Key metabolic hormones such as insulin, leptin and ghrelin have a dual role during brain development as growth factors. These metabolic hormones are altered in an obese pregnancy, providing a direct route by which the maternal nutritional state can impact on offspring hypothalamic development. We will use a combination of in vivo manipulation of hormone levels (e.g. fetal brain injection) and ex vivo neuro-developmental techniques (e.g. neurospheres) to examine the consequences of altered metabolic hormone levels for early hypothalamic development. We will also use immunofluorescence and viral tracing to study hypothalamic architecture in the offspring of obese mothers once they reach adulthood, and correlate the anatomy with functional readouts of complex feeding behaviours using operant and metabolic chambers.

423
Category:
Developmental Biology
Project:

Understanding placental endocrine function in the control of fetal growth and long-term health

Project Listed Date:
Institute or Center:
N/A
NIH Mentor:
N/A
University:
Cambridge
Project Details:

During pregnancy, nutrients must be supplied to the fetus for growth but also to the mother to maintain the pregnancy. This nutrient balance depends on the placenta, an organ that develops during pregnancy to transfer nutrients to the fetus and that secretes hormones into the mother with metabolic effects. Impaired placental function disrupts the materno-fetal nutrient balance and results in major pregnancy complications, including abnormal birthweight with both immediate and long-lasting effects on offspring health. However, our understanding of the importance of placental endocrine function in the control of fetal growth and long-term health of the offspring is unknown. To address this knowledge gap, we have developed new and robust models of genetically-induced placental endocrine malfunction in mice. Using these models, we have found that placental endocrine malfunction is associated with programmed changes in insulin and glucose handling of both the female and male offspring in adult life.

This PhD will extend these important findings by:
1. Identifying which tissues in the offspring are affected by placental endocrine malfunction and responsible for the altered glucose and insulin handling of offspring in later life.
2. Exploring the intrauterine mechanisms by which metabolic organs of the developing offspring are programmed by placental endocrine malfunction.

This will be achieved by studying the function of key metabolic organs in female and male offspring that were supported by placentas with endocrine malfunction. Particularly, it will use genetic manipulation and a range of in vivo physiological (metabolic testing, NMR scanning), and in vitro molecular (respirometry, RNAseq, western blotting, qPCR, epigenetic analysis), histological and biochemical assays.

318
Category:
Developmental Biology
Project:

Understanding the self-organization of morphogenesis and collective cell migration in the zebrafish embryo

Project Listed Date:
Institute or Center:
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
NIH Mentor:

Dr. Ajay Chitnis 

University:
Cambridge
Project Details:

The posterior Lateral Line primordium is a group of about a hundred cells that migrates under the skin, from the ear to the tip of the tail, periodically forming and depositing sensory organs called neuromasts, to spearhead formation of the zebrafish Lateral Line sensory system. In recent years, this relatively simple and accessible system has emerged as an attractive model for understanding various aspects of morphogenesis in the developing embryo, including the guidance of cell migration, tissue patterning and organ formation. The goal is to use a combination of cellular, molecular, genetic and biomechanical manipulations coupled with live imaging, image processing and the development of multi-scale computational models to understand the self-organization of cell-fate, morphogenesis and migration of the lateral line primordium. Specific focus will be on developing tools and methods for investigating, imaging, quantifying and modelling the mechanics of collective migration, morphogenesis of epithelial rosettes and the intercellular and intracellular signaling networks that coordinate lateral line primordium development.

208
Category:
Developmental Biology
Project:

Effects of obesity on maternal metabolism and fetal growth

Project Listed Date:
Institute or Center:
N/A
NIH Mentor:
N/A
University:
Cambridge
Project Details:

Obesity during pregnancy affects maternal and infant health both during pregnancy and for long afterwards. It raises the risk of health complications like maternal diabetes during pregnancy, and increases the susceptibility of the mother to develop metabolic syndrome in the years after delivery. It also leads to neonatal and later life health complications in their infants, such that infants are more prone to develop metabolic impairments themselves in later life. Despite this, the mechanisms operating during pregnancy that lead to these poor pregnancy outcomes in obese women, remain unknown. The placenta is the organ that produces hormones responsible for changing the metabolism of the mother to ensure sufficient nutrients are available for fetal growth during pregnancy. However, to date, little is known about the role of placental hormone production in the development of maternal metabolic complications in pregnancies where the mother is obese. This study aims to identify the importance of placental hormone production for maternal metabolism and fetal growth in pregnancies where the mother is obese. It will use samples from pregnant mice that are lean or obese (due to a diet high in sugar and fat) and omic approaches (RNAseq/mass spec) on fluorescence-activated sorted placental endocrine cells to identify the hormones disrupted by maternal obesity with metabolic effects. It will also use metabolic, molecular, mitochondrial and biochemical assays to assess the mother’s ability to use glucose and respond to insulin in obese mice with and without a genetic defect in the placenta that disrupts placental hormone production. Finally, hormones identified to be importance in maternal metabolic regulation in mouse pregnancies will be quantified in the plasma of lean and obese women to determine if they relate to pregnancy outcome.

135
Category:
Developmental Biology
Project:

Organogenesis of the Zebrafish Vasculature.

Project Listed Date:
Institute or Center:
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
NIH Mentor:

Dr. Brant Weinstein

UK Mentor:
N/A
University:
N/A
Project Details:
N/A
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