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Mitigating the loss of musculoskeletal tissues with very low calorie diets in obesity and diabetes S&T42

  • School: School of Science and Technology
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2022

Project ID: S&T42

Obesity and diabetes are amongst the UK’s most significant societal and healthcare challenges. Characterised by insulin resistance, hyperglycaemia and myriad metabolic syndrome characteristics, diabetes and obesity are also associated with a deleterious loss of skeletal muscle mass. Despite there being drugs (with side-effects) available to manage hyperglycemia, a potent treatment for diabetes or obese pre-diabetes is dietary intervention in the form of “very low calorie diets” (or VLCD). The effectiveness of VLCD (~800 Kcal/d) is underlined by studies showing that even short-term interventions (e.g., 6 weeks) can lead to complete diabetes remission, and in overwight and obesity, a normalisation of impaired metabolic health. Yet a remaining issue with VLCD is that it causes not only a loss of fat but also significant losses of lean muscle tissue, which acts to exacerbate muscle loss already endemic to these conditions. This is particularly concerning in older people at the highest risk of sarcopenia. Moreover, with VLCD’s impacts on bone density likely to be equally harmful, this has implications in relation to osteopenia and osteoporosis, as prevalent in older age.

This studentship brings world-leading supervisory expertise in clinical, musculoskeletal and cutting-edge methods with an aim to explore muscle dysfunction and its mitigation in obesity.

  1. How are signalling pathways regulating muscle mass altered in obesity and diabetes in comparison to individuals of a healthy weight? The student appointed will benefit from being able to use existing muscle biopsy specimens from these clinical groups held in biobanks by members of the supervisory team.
  2. Do muscle stem cells (termed satellite cells; crucial for muscle growth and repair) exhibit distinct in vitro myogenic characteristics in obesity and diabetes compared to cells from individuals of a healthy weight? The student appointed will again benefit from access to existing CD56+ human-derived satellite cells from obese, diabetic and normal weight individuals held in biobanks by members of the supervisory team.
  3. Whilst already established that exercise alongside VLCD is insufficient to preserve muscle, we propose that a) protein supplementation alongside VLCD and exercise might help to preserve muscle mass and overcome VLCD-induced muscle atrophy, and b) protein supplementation alongside VLCD and exercise can better preserve bone mass.

This project would provide the student diverse and cutting-edge training in an important clinical area, and crucially, would draw on major prior investment in relation to the clinical resources outlined in questions 1 and 2, as outlined above.

The supervisory team consists of Professor Craig Sale (NTU), Professor Kirsty Elliot-Sale (NTU), Professor Philip Atherton (University of Nottingham) and Associate Professor Beth Phillips (University of Nottingham).

School strategic research priority

This project aligns directly with the Sport, Health and Performance Enhancement Research Centre (more specifically with the Musculoskeletal Physiology Research Group) and with the Health and Wellbeing Strategic Research Theme.

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

For guidance and to make an application, please visit our studentship application page. The application deadline is Friday 14 January 2022.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2022 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Download our full applicant guidance notes for more information.

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