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PhD studentship: Mechanisms of placental vitamin D handling and prenatal programming of adult obesity

Human Development and Health

Location:  Southampton General Hospital
Closing Date:  Wednesday 31 July 2019
Reference:  1146819AF

Lead Institute / Faculty: University of Southampton, Faculty of Medicine

Main Supervisor: Dr Jane Cleal (Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine)

Other members of the supervisory team: Professor Nicholas Harvey, Dr Jaswinder Sethi, Dr Pam Mahon

Duration of the award: 3 years, full time.

Project description: Applications are invited to apply for a prestigious Gerald Kerkutt Trust/University of Southampton funded 3 year PhD studentship starting in October 2019. The student will be based in the Institute of Developmental Sciences within the Human Development and Health Academic Unit of the Faculty of Medicine (

Low maternal vitamin D levels are associated with reduced fetal growth, increased childhood fat mass and risk of adulthood obesity. We hypothesis that these effects are mediated by altered placental vitamin D handling and vitamin D mediated changes to placental function. Despite being of clear importance for fetal development, the actions of vitamin D within the placenta are not fully understood. 

This project will therefore address the following aims:

1) Quantify the rates of placental vitamin D metabolism and transfer to the fetus.

2) Determine how vitamin D regulates placental mechanisms related to postnatal obesity risk. 

3) Determine which placental markers of vitamin D handling (Aim 1) or regulated placental function (Aim 2) relate to fetal growth and the risk of obesity across the life-course.

This study will involve human placental ex-vivo tissue preparations, trophoblast cell culture, epigenetic analysis and molecular studies on placental tissues from well-characterised pregnancies. 

This work will help us understand fundamental processes in placental biology, as well as the physiological mechanisms that regulate fetal growth.

During the course of the studentship, the successful applicant will be trained in a diverse range of physiological and molecular biology techniques, as well as participate in the faculty’s postgraduate training programme:

Please contact: Dr. Jane Cleal (

Person Specification: See below.

The successful candidate is likely to have the following qualifications:

A 1stor 2:1 degree in a relevant discipline and/or second degree with a related Masters

Funding information: The studentship is funded by the Gerald Kerkutt Trust/University of Southampton and covers tuition fees for UK/EU students and a maintenance grant paid at current BBSRC rates.

Administrative contact and how to apply:

Please complete the University's online application form, which you can find at

You should enter Jane Cleal as your proposed supervisor. To support your application provide an academic CV (including contact details of two referees), official academic transcripts and a personal statement (outlining your suitability for the studentship, what you hope to achieve from the PhD and your research experience to date).

Informal enquiries relating to the project or candidate suitability should be directed to Dr Jane Cleal (

Closing date: July 31st

Interview date:  August

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