Current students

Connect with current students on the MRC IMPACT programme: 

Abdulkadir Abakir

Abdulkadir Abakir studied Biochemistry and Genetics as an undergraduate student before obtaining a MSc degree in stem Cell Biology from the University of Nottingham. Following this, Abdulkadir accepted a medical research council funded PhD position at the University of Nottingham. His PhD project aims to investigate the functional role of nucleic acid modifications in human pluripotent stem cells, differentiation and disease. Email:

Leah Banellis

Leah is researching conscious electrophysiological responses to speech and interoceptive stimuli, in order to improve the prognosis and diagnosis of awareness in patients with disorders of consciousness. She is supervised by Dr Damian Cruse and Prof Antonio Belli. Email:

Sohni Ria Bhalla

Diabetics have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease due to the insufficient growth of collateral vessels. In non-diabetics this is not the case as the body responds by generating new blood vessels to circumvent the blockage. Vascular endothelial growth (VEGF) is the main regulator of blood vessel growth and consists of multiple isoforms: pro-angiogenic (e.g. VEGF-A165a) and anti-angiogenic (e.g. VEGF-A165b). Our aim is to pinpoint the mechanism that may change the production of VEGF isoforms in diabetics, allowing blood vessels to form. If the pathway is successfully identified, this could lead to a new treatment for cardiovascular disease.

Sarah Brown

Project title:
An in vitro and in silico study of altered airway smooth muscle and extracellular matrix structure and function in the remodelled asthmatic airway.

Short Bio:

My research combines in vitro experimental work using Human Airway Smooth Muscle (HASM) cells and in silico mathematical modelling, in order to discover mechanisms of airway remodelling in asthma patients. These methods are used in complement in order to ultimately develop an accurate tool which could be used to identify new therapeutic targets. Email:

Sean Colbourn

After completing my BSc in Psychology at the University of York I coordinated a research team in rural Uganda and subsequently undertook a Research Grants role at the University of Oxford in the Nuffield Department of Population Health and Surgical Sciences. Having an interest in consciousness research since my undergraduate degree, and a desire to peruse a career in academia, I embarked on a MSc in Brain Imaging and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham working in Dr Davinia Fernández-Espejo’s lab. Upon securing MRC funding I am now undertaking my PhD investigating the neural correlates of consciousness through the use of multimodal brain imaging and stimulation techniques.

Emma Cowan

The aim of my PhD project is to characterise UBE3A, an E3 ubiquitin ligase enzyme, using a variety of biophysical techniques, such as AUC, SEC-MALLS, SAXS and CD, and to determine the full structure using Cryo-EM and/or X-ray Crystallography. I am also interested in putative binding partners for UBE3A, and hope to use similar techniques to characterise these interactions. Results from this research will have potential for “real-world” impact, as UBE3A has been implicated in the neurodevelopmental disorder Angelman syndrome, as well as several cancers. My project is supervised by Dr David Scott (UoN/RCaH), Dr Stephen Carr (Oxford University/RCaH), Dr Katie Cunnea (eBIC), and Prof Rob Layfied (UoN).

Lewis Everett

I am investigating the role of pancreatic beta cell heterogeneity in health and disease under the supervision of Professors David Hodson and Gareth Lavery. By using optogenetics I hope to interrogate the function of single cells within islets of Langerhans to advance our knowledge of these micro-organs and the mechanisms by which they fail in type 2 diabetes. Failing this, I will fabricate data and hope that this isn’t read back to me during a scientific misconduct trial in several years’ time.

Emily Fisher

My PhD is focussed on redox biology in first-episode psychosis- an early intervention point in youth mental health. Prior research has indicated an imbalance of reactive oxygen species production and antioxidant defence deficit which could contribute to the disease pathology. We are using exercise as an adjunct therapy to the traditional antipsychotic medication, which carries many metabolic side-effects, with a particular focus on the antioxidant glutathione- the main redox defence mechanism in the brain, and most importantly increased as a result of exercise training. We are using MR spectroscopy, blood assays and clinical assays to assess patients before, during and after a 12-week intervention of moderate intensity aerobic activity. Emily Fisher

Sheabul Hoque

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained heart rhythm disorder. Approximately 30% of AF patients carry a genomic predisposition to the arrhythmia. Genome-wide association studies have identified single nucleotide polymorphisms that associate with AF on chromosome 4q25; ~150 kb upstream from the Pitx2 gene. My project will generate atrial-specific cardiomyocytes from human iPS cells which have had Cas9/CRISPR-based targeted mutagenesis employed to disrupt Pitx2 expression. Cardiac phenotyping these cells, via cellular electrophysiology, molecular biology and optical mapping, will allow us to assess the atrial dysfunction predisposing to AF and test the effects of differential Pitx2 concentrations on antiarrhythmic drugs.

Oliver Ratcliffe

Oli is a PhD student at the University of Birmingham funded by the MRC IMPACT-DTP. Over the course of his project, he plans to make use of electrical stimulation techniques to intervene in specific memory processes. Working memory maintenance and sleep-dependent consolidation of long term memories are of particular interest as both of these forms of memory are disrupted as a consequence of healthy ageing. The project will investigate whether non-invasive brain stimulation could be a means to improve cognitive outcomes as people age, as well as teaching us more about the underlying neural basis of these forms of memory.

Katherine Stephenson

With a median life expectancy of three years from diagnosis, the prognosis for patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is poor. Characterised by the excessive deposition of extracellular matrix by fibroblasts, IPF is a chronic, progressive, interstitial lung disease (ILD) with limited treatment options. Recently, the cytokine Interleukin-33 (IL-33) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of IPF however the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying this involvement remain largely unknown. Consequently, the aim of my PhD project is to determine the role that IL-33 plays during the development of IPF. Email:

Shaun Warrington

I am currently working at the School of Medicine (University of Nottingham) completing a PhD under the supervision of Dr Stamatios Sotiropolous. My current research focusses on using diffusion MRI and resting-state functional MRI to investigate how measures of brain connectivity are associated with behaviour and genetics. This work uses superb quality MRI data from the Human Connectome Project (HCP). Using state-of-the-art computational modelling techniques and advanced statistics, we hope to unravel the associations between brain connectivity and behaviour and explore the heritability of brain connectivity.