Announcing 2023/24’s PhD Studentships

22 April 24

written by:

Press Office

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Each year we award grants to support supervisors and their students, as they lead to a PhD qualification and ideally, an exciting career in vision research. This year we have awarded £412,900 to three supervisors at University of Manchester, St George’s, University of London and Northumbria University, to build capacity in vision research.

What are the PhD Studentships?

These grants are specifically for supervisors proposing a PhD programme, with the clear aim of encouraging the development of talented, highly motivated graduates in ophthalmic and vision research.

“This scheme is all about building capacity to undertake research for the next generation because we always need a pipeline of researchers coming through." Explains Ranjeet Khare, Director of Development for Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation

Supervisors outside London can apply for up to £135k; for those within London, the figure is £143k. In recent years we have extended the length of these grants from three years to four, to allow more time for students to complete their research, write their thesis, share their findings and maintain momentum in vision research.”


This year’s PhD Studentship recipients:

Dr Jamie Ellingford, University of Manchester

AREA OF INTEREST: Inherited retinal dystrophies (IRDs) are a group of eye diseases caused by genetic mutations, passed down through families. Currently more than 270 disease-associated genes have been identified, yet up to half of people living with IRDs have not received a genetic diagnosis for their condition. Dr Ellingford and his team’s research proposal aims to tackle that, by studying all aspects of the genome and how the genes function. This includes when they're activated (gene expression), their specific structure and how they are joined together (splicing).

BENEFITS: Enhancing our understanding and ability to diagnose IRDs could lead to better genetic diagnosis, which will in turn lead to better clinical management. An increased and detailed understanding of the development and progression of IRDs could also identify new avenues for treatment.


Dr Florencia Cavodeassi, St George’s, University of London

AREA OF INTEREST: Foveal hypoplasia is when the fovea – a structure in the middle of the retina that helps us to see sharp colour vision – doesn’t develop properly. This can cause severe vision problems. Many cases of foveal hypoplasia lack a genetic diagnosis, so work needs to be done on identifying the genes involved in forming the fovea. Zebrafish have an area in their retina specialised in high acuity (or sharp) vision – similar to the fovea – making them a good model organism for research.

BENEFITS: Without a genetic diagnosis, a clinician may struggle to provide optimal treatment and management of foveal hypoplasia. Studying the zebrafish could help reflect genes involved in fovea formation and could offer the first steps towards being able to diagnose and treat this .


Dr Monika Winter, Northumbria University

AREA OF INTEREST: Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is a rare genetic condition affecting the optic nerve, which sends visual information from the eye to the brain. It is caused by faults (mutations) in the genetic code of mitochondria, which are the tiny ‘powerhouses’ of our cells. While some people with this genetic fault never experience sight loss, others do, suggesting additional factors (such as smoking, alcohol consumption and diet) could play a role in triggering LHON.

BENEFITS: Dr Winter’s work aims to identify the degradation of retinal ganglion cells (the neurons that provide the bridge between what the eye sees and the brain’s visual processing centre) in LHON patients. Identifying triggering factors could help to bring diagnosis forward, offering an opportunity for early intervention.


Two previous award recipients:

Richard Childs-Hunt (began the PhD Studentship in 2021)

At London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Supervisor Professor Colin Sutherland and co-supervisor Dr Debbie Nolder were awarded a PhD Studentship grant to supervise Richard Childs-Hunt for a project titled “Diversity and therapeutic susceptibility of Acanthamoeba causing keratitis in UK patients”. Acanthamoeba keratitis is a rare but serious eye infection of the cornea (the clear surface at the front of the eye), caused by a single-celled organism called Acanthamoeba.

Richard has been carrying out genome sequencing of one of the Acanthamoeba to study their makeup. This has allowed researchers to better understand the relationship between the Acanthamoeba structure and clinical presentation of the infection they cause. The grant has also facilitated learning additional research techniques with his collaborator at the University of the West of Scotland, Professor Fiona Henriquez, to test drug susceptibility against Acanthamoeba.


Dr Ester Reina-Torres (PhD Studentship was completed in 2016)

Based at Imperial College London, Dr Reina-Torres had been co-supervised by Professor Darryl Overby and Professor Ross Ethier, while investigating whether increasing the pores in the eye’s drainage system could be a potential treatment for glaucoma. According to Dr Reina-Torres, “This funding allowed us to get a better understanding on how outflow resistance is regulated in order to maintain intraocular pressure [in glaucoma].”

On a personal level, the Fight for Sight funding also provided a springboard into a career in eye research, “I first went to Trinity College Dublin for a year and after that I came back to Imperial College. In both places, I have continued working on the line of research that I started with the PhD. Therefore, all my research career so far has been possible thanks to the initial opportunity by Fight for Sight, which has led to the publication of 8 (15 at the time of print) peer-reviewed papers.”

Following her PhD Studentship grant, Ester was also awarded a Small Grant from Fight for Sight and Glaucoma UK in 2022/23, with the goal of enabling her to gather pilot data that could lead onto follow on funding.


Could you be the next PhD Studentship grant recipient?

If you have a research idea that would make an excellent PhD programme for a future vision researcher, please visit this page for more information and guidance.

The funding call for the next round of applications will open in April and close 26 June.

Current funding opportunities >