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Dietary intake of saturated fatty acids is associated with adverse metabolic health outcomes (e.g. increased coronary heart disease risk) (Zong et al, 2016), whereas the consumption of mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (specifically those derived from vegetable and fish oil) is typically viewed to have more favourable health outcomes (Hodson et al, 2001) (Mozaffarian et al, 2010). Adipose tissue serves as the major site of storage for dietary fatty acids and consequently the fatty acid composition of this tissue closely reflects that of the diet. However, it is not clear whether fatty acid composition of the diet affects adipose tissue function.

Different adipose depots on the body exhibit subtle differences in fatty acid composition (Pinnick et al, 2012), suggesting there are regional differences in endogenous fatty acid metabolism which may be of functional significance. Since dietary fatty acids are stored in the adipose tissue it is plausible that the composition of dietary fat influences adipose tissue development and function. Therefore, studies will be undertaken to understand and specifically define the molecular effects of dietary fatty acids on human adipocyte development and function. This will be achieved using an integrated approach which combines in vitro cellular studies, stable-isotope labelling, gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, gene editing, functional cellular studies and clinical translation.

Training Opportunities

Use in vitro cellular models, including human primary preadipocytes and immortalised human preadipocyte cell-lines, to assess a range of aspects of human adipocyte biology including proliferation, adipogenesis, insulin signalling, lipolysis, lipogenesis and inflammation. Use of stable isotope metabolic tracers to track carbohydrate and fat metabolism in combination with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Use a range of molecular techniques to measure gene expression (Q-PCR) and study the effects of gene editing (gene knock down/in – CRISPR/shRNA).

As well as the specific training detailed above, students will have access to a wide-range of seminars and training opportunities through the many research institutes and centres based in Oxford. Students are also able to attend the Methods and Techniques course run by the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. This course runs through the year, ensuring that students have the opportunity to build a broad-based understanding of differing research techniques.

Generic skills training is offered through the Medical Sciences Division's Skills Training Programme. This programme offers a comprehensive range of courses covering many important areas of researcher development: knowledge and intellectual abilities, personal effectiveness, research governance and organisation, and engagement, influence and impact. Students are actively encouraged to take advantage of the training opportunities available to them.

The department has a successful mentoring scheme, open to graduate students, which provides an additional possible channel for personal and professional development outside the regular supervisory framework. We hold an Athena SWAN Silver Award in recognition of our efforts to support the careers of female students and staff.

Publications

1 Zong et al. Intake of individual saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: Two prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ 2016, 355, i5796
2 Hodson et al. The effect of replacing dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat on plasma lipids in free-living young adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2001 Oct; 55(10):908-15
3 Mozaffarian et al. Effects on Coronary Heart Disease of Increasing Polyunsaturated Fat in Place of Saturated Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS Med. 2010, 7, e1000252
4 Pinnick et al. Gluteofemoral adipose tissue plays a major role in production of the lipokine palmitoleate in humans. Diabetes, 2012. 61(6):1399-403

Research Themes, Tools and Technologies

Supervisors

Key Dates for October 2018 Entry

Application deadline:  12 noon GMT on Monday 8 January 2018

Interviews for shortlisted candidates: Week commencing Monday 22 January 

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How to apply

To apply for a place on the DPhil in Medical Sciences you will need to submit an application using the online application form.

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