Graduate School

Mrc case studentships


An industrial CASE (iCASE) studentship is available for doctoral study at Oxford, to start in October 2018, as part of the MRC Enterprise Studentship Programme 2018 (Industrial CASE Awards). Applications must be received by 12 noon (UK time) Friday 6th April 2018.

The studentship is fully-funded for four years with a starting stipend of £20,000 p.a., increasing to £24,000 by year 4, plus tuition fees, a research training support grant and travel expenses for conferences or collaborations. The studentship will be based in the University as part of the Oxford-MRC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will also involve close collaboration with a commercial partner. 

Project description

Pancreatic beta-cell health and fragility: common disease mechanisms between diabetes and neurodegenerative disease (Lead supervisors Professor John Todd and Dr Irina Stefana, commercial partner Novo Nordisk)

Defects in the functions and integrity of pancreatic insulin-producing beta cells and of neurons underpin diabetes and neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, respectively, which affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. A new emerging approach to understanding the causes of these disorders and their treatment and prevention is to consider the incredible similarities between neurons and beta cells, which share may of same molecules and pathways in their exquisitely timed and regulated production of proteins that are critical for neuronal signalling and glucose metabolism.  Furthermore, diabetes is significantly more common in patients with neurodegenerative disease indicating shared genetic and cellular pathways and disease mechanisms. In this research project we will exploit knowledge and approaches from both these fields to innovate in establishing new ways of maintaining the health and function of beta cells in diabetes treatment and prevention.

The programme combines the unique strengths of the Diabetes and Inflammation Laboratory (DIL; led by Professor John Todd) - in studying the genetic and molecular causes of T1D and its overlaps with T2D - and the recently-established Novo Nordisk Research Centre Oxford (NNRCO) - in studying the cell biology of pancreatic b-cell survival; in implementing high-throughput screens; the latest imaging technology; development of stem cell-derived beta cells - to investigate the genetic and mechanistic bases underlying beta-cell health and diabetes.

The successful student will combine genetic, biochemical and cell biology techniques to investigate how genes in several newly identified T1D regions (some of which overlap with T2D risk loci) cause diabetes through altering beta-cell health or resistance to stress (whether immune, metabolic or genetic). This work will use cultured beta cells and, where available, human donor pancreatic islets to confirm key findings.

By using state-of-the-art sequencing and mass-spectrometry techniques, the work will then progress to identify candidate genomic regions that become activated under stress specifically in beta cells and which may otherwise appear to be quiescent. Integration of transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics data sets will enable us to assemble the data into functional pathways in silico.

Throughout the project, priority will be given to genes encoding members of the secretome or receptor proteins, due to their accessibility as targets for protein-based treatment. Here, NNRCO access to the Novo Nordisk protein production capabilities will allow for the rapid proof-of-concept testing of key hypotheses arising from this work.

Special emphasis will also be placed on genes that have been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, due to the striking similarities between b-cell and neuron cellular biology. This research could ultimately uncover new therapeutic strategies where, for example, drugs originally developed for neurodegenerative diseases could be repurposed for diabetes treatment.

You will be supervised primarily by Professor John Todd and Dr Irina Stefana and will also be assigned a secondary supervisor from NNRCO. You will therefore be embedded in the rich environments of both the DIL and NNRCO. You will work closely with Dr Stefana (Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the DIL), who will provide daily supervision, experimental guidance and training in lab techniques. You will also benefit from the interaction with and the support of other members of the DIL, covering a wide range of expertise (including metabolism, islet biology, immunology, human genetics, advanced genomics, mass-spectrometry, statistics, bioinformatics).

NNRCO, the industrial partner on this project, was launched in 2017 as a strategic alliance between the University of Oxford, already a world leader in diabetes and metabolism research, and Novo Nordisk, the leading diabetes therapeutics company. Working in the NNRCO state-of-the-art laboratories will allow the student to experience a unique hybrid academia-industry research environment, where the focus is strongly on identifying new therapeutic targets for diabetes.

The student will work seamlessly between the DIL and NNRCO, as dictated by experimental needs. The seamlessness is owing to the geographic proximity, as well as the nature of the research and the unique model of the NNRCO-University interaction, which is governed by the Strategic Alliance Agreement (SAA) covering publication, seminar attendance and working between laboratories. The SAA and the pre-competitive nature of most of NNRCO´s work means that there will be no restrictions on publishing collaborative work upon completion of a review process. Such work arrangements will also provide frequent contact with both the academic and the industrial supervisors.

The student will receive training in all areas of the work, including but not limited to: (a) a wide range of standard wet lab methods including cell biology, biochemistry and molecular biology techniques; and (b) computational biology and statistical biology methods, including training in the analysis of high-throughput datasets, as necessary. Additional training opportunities are also available via departmental training programmes and external training courses.

Relevant literature:

Tai J, Liu W, Li Y, Li L, Hölscher C. Neuroprotective effects of a triple GLP-1/GIP/glucagon receptor agonist in the APP/PS1 transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Brain Res. 2018 Jan 1;1678:64-74. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2017.10.012. PMID: 29050859

Liston, A., Todd, J.A. & Lagou, V. (2017) Beta-cell fragility as a common underlying risk factor in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Trends Mol. Med. 23, 181-194. PMID: 28117227.

Structure and organisation of the programme

Designed to nurture the academic entrepreneurs of the future, the Enterprise studentship programme offers a stimulating educational experience as part of the Oxford-MRC DTP cohort, with the additional benefit of working closely with a non-academic partner. This will provide industrial training opportunities and an insight into how commercial science is conducted alongside a superb academic base within the University.

Entry Requirements

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications) in a relevant discipline such as biology, biochemistry, or medicine.

A previous master's degree is not required.

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Performance at interview

Candidates who are shortlisted are interviewed as part of the admissions process. Shortlisting will be based on academic achievements, previous relevant experience, recommendation letters and evidence of creative problem-solving and a commitment to research. Interviews will be conducted in person, or, when this is not possible, via telephone or Skype (with video). The interview will consist of a short presentation of previous project work (this may be project work carried towards completion of a degree) by the applicant followed by questions from the panel.


Prior publications are not required, but research experience and a track record demonstrating an interest in research may be an advantage.

2. English language requirement

 Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the standard level required by the University.

3. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.


To be eligible for a full award, applicants must have no restrictions on how long they can stay in the UK and must have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship. Further details about residence requirements may be obtained here.

How To Apply

To make a formal application, please complete the University’s online application form for the DPhil in Clinical Medicine (course code RD_CM1). In your application, you must indicate that you are applying for an advertised studentship competition, using the reference code iCASEYou will need to provide a CV outlining your academic achievements and relevant experience, and a personal statement (500 words max) detailing your interest and fit for the studentship. Note that no project proposal is required for the iCASE studentship applications.

For questions about the project or informal discussion, please contact John Todd via email at or Irina Stefana at

For specific queries about the iCASE application process, please email Advice on how to pick a graduate advisor and how to choose a scientific problem can be found in these two articles:

All applications must be received by the deadline of 12 noon (UK time) Friday 6th April 2018. 

Shortlisted candidates will be notified by Friday 20th April 2018 and interviews will be held shortly thereafter.