A ‘coordinated’ response to concussion
The recognition and subsequent management of mild traumatic brain injuries (concussion) is challenging, and the return to play process typically used in sport is based on athletes’ signs and symptoms. Currently, a wide variety of approaches to the recognition of concussion and management of recovery are being studied, including neuropsychological, oculomotor and biomarker tests. In addition, disturbances in motor control occur in response to concussion and these disturbances have been shown to persist beyond the typical time taken for an athlete to return to sport. Impaired motor control has even been implicated in an increased risk of injury for periods as long as two years subsequent to recovery from concussion.
This PhD will explore motor control in athletes in relation to concussion, with opportunities to focus on different phases of recovery in a range of different athletes. The ultimate goal will be to identify whether measures of motor control can aid in the recognition of concussion and the management of athletes during recovery. There may be opportunities to spend extended periods of time at the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and at international partner Institutions (such as Stellenbosch University or the University of Calgary) as part of this PhD.
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Children’s diet and physical activity behaviours through the transition from primary to secondary school
The transition from primary to secondary school is a significant time in a child’s life. It’s often accompanied by gained independence, and exposure to new environments and social settings; all of which can influence diet and physical activity behaviours.
Diets may become less healthy and more irregular, in part because of more food being eaten outside the home. Research also highlights there is a decrease in children’s physical activity, especially amongst girls.
This project will investigate the determinants, influences and moderators of change to young people’s lifestyle behaviours through this transition, and design approaches to encourage positive habits. It will be a mixed methods study, using both qualitative and quantitative methods to measure a cohort of children’s diet and physical activity during their final year of primary school, and again the following year when they have moved to secondary school.
Drawing on the findings, the project will build a stakeholder advisory group, including children, parents, teachers and community members, to co-create an intervention supporting children and their families to maintain positive lifestyle behaviours through this period. The final part of the project will be to pilot test the designed intervention in a small number of schools, assessing its acceptability and feasibility.
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Does physical activity augment immune function to eliminate cancer cell outgrowth?
It is widely established that a physical, active lifestyle reduces the risk of many cancers. However, the mechanisms underpinning the anti-cancer effects of physical activity remain unknown. It is increasingly theorised that physical activity exerts anti-cancer effects by improving immune function to eliminate cancer outgrowth, but this theory is unconfirmed and requires further research. Advancing understanding in this area will benefit wider society because it will enable physical activity to be better optimised to reduce the burden of cancer at a population level.
This project aims to advance understanding in this area via two complementary research approaches:
- examining existing databases that include measurements of physical activity, immunological parameters and cancer outcomes. The overall objective of these integrative statistical analyses is to understand the features of certain cancers that renders them susceptible to the protective effects of physical activity.
- exploring new prospective studies that look at how physical activity alters anti-cancer immune function in humans, using techniques such as flow cytometry. The objective of these new studies is to improve understanding of how exercise improves immune responses against cancer outgrowth.
There are numerous research pathways that can be pursued in this PhD and it is anticipated that you’ll shape the research programme according to your research interests. You’ll work with like-minded researchers – including Post-Doctoral Research Associates and PhD students – who are actively conducting research in exercise immuno-oncology.
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Exploring the experiences of fear that women and health professionals have in relation to physical activity before, during and after pregnancy
Physical activity is essential for good health and can have a significant impact on the health of mother and baby during and after pregnancy. Yet, it can be challenging for expectant mothers to participate in physical activity, with fewer than 11% sufficiently active to gain the health benefits.
The ongoing UK Maternity Review envisions effective support during pregnancy based on individual needs/circumstances (with prevention as a key tenant) along with WHO identifying rising physical inactivity as a global health priority. PPI events, evidence reviews, networking events and co-design workshops conducted have provided a platform to address the key issues, needs and circumstances facing women, health professionals and policymakers.
Fear has been one of the key themes related to physical activity participation identified by women and health professionals through our extensive consultation. A multidisciplinary approach will explore the experiences of fear that women and health professionals have in relation to physical activity and understand how these experiences might impact physical activity behaviour and the health and well-being of mother and child.
The proposed research would contribute to Moving through Motherhood, a multidisciplinary research group established via the GW4.
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How occupational stress impacts performance, health and wellbeing
Occupational stress is associated with 7 out of the 10 leading causes of death, and has been identified by the World Health Organisation as a 21st century global health epidemic. Furthermore, according to the Health and Safety Executive report (2016), occupational stress accounts for 37% of work-related ill health and 45% of lost working days. While stress is traditionally seen in a negative light due to such statistics, it is noticeable that not all individuals succumb to the high demands they encounter. Indeed, some individuals demonstrate grit, resilience, and even thrive in the face of stress.
This PhD aims to better understand such variability in response to occupational stress, and how stress influences the performance, well-being, and physical/mental health of individuals operating in a range of high-pressure contexts (such as medicine, education, and sport). To this end, this interdisciplinary PhD will use experimental methods and longitudinal designs to monitor underlying psychophysiological responses to stress, with the view of developing interventions that help individuals cope better during stressful encounters.
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Integrated Movement Behaviours for those with Multimorbidity
Multimorbidity (MM) is the co-existence of two or more mental and/or physical chronic conditions. MM places immense pressure on the NHS and represents a complex challenge for healthcare professionals, patients, and their families. Individuals classed as being ‘physically inactive’ are twice as likely to develop MM.
Extending beyond a sole focus on physical activity, the simultaneous consideration of multiple movement behaviours is required to better understand health and wellbeing (light-activity, MVPA, sedentary-time, and sleep). For many, an integrated approach that simultaneously considers daily movement may be more acceptable and useable than a sole focus on physical activity (attempting to initiate behaviours for which little, if any, motivation exists).
With the number of people diagnosed with MM set to double by 2035, interventions are required to decrease the progression of disease states as well as to improve the mental, social, physical and functional health of people living with MM. This mixed-methods programme of doctoral work will analyse existing data from over 100,000 participants who adhered to a 24-hour accelerometer protocol to gain robust and reliable insights into how the reallocation of different movement behaviours corresponds with various markers of health and wellbeing. Engagement with people living with MM, healthcare professionals, and stakeholders will provide rich insight into how best to present and frame lifestyle ‘time-use’ interventions. Having gained novel and rich insight into how best to present health messaging across full 24-hour cycles, intervention approaches based on motivation theory, personalised data, and informational feedback will be developed and tested.
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LGBT+ (diaspora) communities' experiences in sport and mental wellbeing
This project focuses on LGBT+ (diaspora) communities. The aim of the research project is to understand their experiences in community sport and mental wellbeing engagement and the impact on health. You’ll have the opportunity to design your own research focus on these topics with LGBTQ communities locally and globally (e.g. Hong Kong, Australia, UK).
- learn to apply a range of research skills from an ethnographic research approach with particular emphasis on qualitative methods. This will include: individual interviews and focus group interviews, participatory visual methods, mobile ethnography, and art-based methods
- learn to understand and apply social theories and concepts (e.g. Bourdieu, Foucault, feminisms, queer theory etc.) to analyse the research data and with qualitative data software (e.g. NVivo)
- have the opportunity to collaborate with community partners (e.g. Hong Kong Gay Games committee, Federation Gay Games) to organise and/or participate in community sport events for LGBT+ (diaspora) communities
This research has the potential to significantly enhance understanding of diaspora LGBT+ communities’ sport, and mental wellbeing engagement, and to promote active, healthy and inclusive citizens in an increasingly ethnic and culturally diverse socio-cultural environment.
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Meal patterns, night-time feeding and metabolic health
This project is focused on the study of the physiological effects of intermittent fasting, nocturnal feeding, and biological rhythms in human metabolism.
This will involve conducting randomised controlled trials in human volunteers and will integrate various levels of measurement; from monitoring free-living behavioural responses to different diets using wearable technology, to controlled laboratory tests.
The latter will include whole-body measures of metabolic substrate oxidation via indirect calorimetry, systemic measures of blood metabolites and hormones, and molecular measurements within specific tissues (e.g. skeletal muscle and adipose tissue).
You’ll be central to this work, combining basic science training in biochemistry with coordination of clinical trials with human volunteers.
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New biomarkers of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
Diabetes represents a global health, social and economic burden. Approximately 425 million people in the world suffer from diabetes and this will rise to 642 million by 2040. Of these, 90% have type 2 diabetes (T2D). The primary risk factor for developing T2D is the inability of tissues to respond appropriately to insulin; known as insulin resistance. This condition can remain undetected for a long time and ultimately will lead to T2D. In the UK it is estimated that 1 million people might have the condition and not know it.
We have discovered that a group of small GTPases in muscle and fat (Rab3 pathway) influence how glucose enter cells and could be a key factor in the development of T2D.
The aim of this PhD is to understand how the Rab3 pathway is regulated, and whether it can be used as an early diagnostic marker of insulin resistance and T2D. If successful, you will adopt a multidisciplinary approach:
- characterise the Rab3 pathway in skeletal muscle to provide solid basis for understanding its role in the development of T2D
- perform an intervention in pre-diabetic humans combining physical activity and diet to investigate how this pathway can be controlled
We welcome expression of interests if you're keen to develop a wide range of cross-disciplinary skills (biochemistry, cell biology, human physiology).
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Personalisation of prosthetic care for lower limb amputees
Lower-limb amputation rates are rising each year and are associated with the global spread of perivascular diseases including type-2 diabetes mellitus.
In all lower limb amputees, the postoperative phase after amputation is characterised by big changes in the shape and size of the residual limb, causing many challenges for the amputees and the professional cares: several prosthesis replacements, secondary diseases (such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, back pain, risk of falling and fracture), increased wheelchair use and low quality of life.
Each patient has different requirements for a prosthesis and there is a strong need to move towards a personalised rehabilitation after the amputation.
The aim of this research is to provide new insights on the post-surgery amputees’ residuum and gait changes to optimise the early rehabilitation process of the lower limb amputees and to inform the design personalised prosthetic care solutions.
You will be able to use cutting-edge technological tools in the field of computer aided design (3D scanners), imaging (MRI and fluoroscopy), and modelling, to create personalised healthcare solutions and monitor the residuum changes. These tools, together with established technologies in the field of biomechanics and human physiology will allow to characterise the biomechanical and physiological changes in the residual limb of lower limb amputees, to inform prosthetic fitting and design and rehabilitation.
The ultimate beneficiaries of this project will be the amputee population which could benefit on new rehabilitation programs and prosthetic solutions. To reach this goal, the project is designed to yield important multidisciplinary outcomes, allowing the collaboration between different research groups and rehabilitations centres. Also, an NHS partner will be involved for the patients recruitments.
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Predicting pain onset through movement: a solution to overcome task avoidance
Pain affects the way we move and the decisions we make in terms of motor control and movement patterns for simple tasks. Although there is a link between pain, cognitive, and motor behaviour, the cause-effect relationship is still unknown. This is an important knowledge gap, as fear of movement and task avoidance are often reported in patients with chronic diseases and associated with a decreased quality of life.
Currently it is extremely difficult to simultaneously measure neuro-mechanical and psychological data on people in pain, and it is equally challenging to implement suitable mathematical models to interpret the data. Therefore, we aim to address these challenges by defining a pain-motion ‘map’ characterised by the simultaneous measurement of neuro-mechanical, cognitive, and psychological data in VR environments on people with chronic pain. Such a unique multi-source dataset will be used to implement and train a machine learning model that identifies and predicts pain onset. Then interventions on healthy people will be introduced by using electrical stimulation to simulate different types of pain during specific movements, and validate the model previously developed.
The long-term goal of this project is to improve the quality of life of people with chronic pain by providing tools to overcome task avoidance, and will enable the integration of pain monitoring tools in the current clinical assessment procedures.
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Stress and mental health in elite sport
Although it is well established that physical activity can positively affect mental health, the intense physical activity performed in elite sport can compromise mental health, increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression through overtraining, burnout, or injury (Rice et al., 2021).
Indeed, recent meta-analyses illustrate that elite athletes’ experience more psychological distress (20%) and anxiety/depression (34%) than the general population (9.5% and 19% respectively; Gouttebarge et al., 2019). Research has also highlighted that athletes are at increased risk of eating disorders, with this and other mental health issues elevating athletes’ suicide risk (Rice et al., 2021).
This project will further examine the stress and mental health experiences of elite athletes operating within the EIS, with a particular focus on injury occurrence and rehabilitation. Rather than focusing solely on individual athletes, you’ll also explore team, cultural, and policy factors. This interdisciplinary approach will incorporate advanced quantitative and novel qualitative methods, alongside longitudinal designs to track athletes’ mental health experiences over time.
You’ll work within the StART (Stress, Anxiety, Resilience and Thriving) research group at Bath and in collaboration with the EIS, offering an exciting opportunity to not only produce world-leading research, but regularly integrate findings back into the national elite sport system to create meaningful impact and change.
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The impact of overfeeding, physical inactivity and exercise on metabolic health in humans
The aim of this project is to identify the mechanisms by which regular exercise maintains metabolic health in the face of a caloric surplus.
It will build on previous research that showed that mixed-macronutrient overfeeding and reduced physical activity had a dramatic impact on insulin sensitivity and adipose tissue gene expression, and that a daily bout of vigorous-intensity exercise completely offset the negative consequences of weight gain.
A major potential mechanism behind this response is likely to be the impact of physical activity on net carbohydrate balance, although this has not yet been investigated.
The project will investigate three hypotheses:
- carbohydrate overfeeding will lead to a saturation of liver and muscle glycogen and a reduction in insulin sensitivity
- vigorous-intensity exercise will counteract these negative effects through a regular turnover of endogenous carbohydrate stores and by regulating glucose homeostasis
- lipid overfeeding will have little effect on metabolic health – especially when carbohydrates stores are low.
Two randomised controlled trials based on the model previously developed will be used to reveal the respective effects of excess carbohydrates and fat on metabolic health.
Young, physically active individuals will be recruited and asked to consume an excess of calories and reduce their physical activity for seven days. Half of the participants will perform daily vigorous-intensity exercise. Understanding these mechanisms may help develop novel pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions designed to improve metabolic health.
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