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PhD Scholarship in Gene Therapy and Biomaterials for Spinal Cord Injury

University of Galway (NUI Galway)
Galway (County), Connacht (IE)
€22, 000 per annum, a tax-exempt scholarship award
Closing date
22 Jul 2024

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Job Type
PhD Position
Employment - Hours
Full time
Fixed term

Job Details

Applications are invited from suitably qualified candidates for full-time funded PhD scholarship(s) starting in September 2024 affiliated to the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Galway.

University of Galway

Located in the vibrant cultural city of Galway in the west of Ireland, the University of Galway has a distinguished reputation for teaching and research excellence

For information on moving to Ireland please see

Detailed Project Description

This position is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and is available from 1st September 2024 for four years. In line with the National Framework for Doctoral education, the successful candidate will participate in a structured PhD education and training programme, providing a well-developed monitoring and mentoring support structure. Funding includes a fixed stipend of €22,000 per year along with payment of fees, and laboratory consumables for up to four years. 

This study aims to provide proof of principle for a gene therapy to improve repair and function after Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). Following SCI a glial scar is produced which contains specific proteoglycans that inhibit axon growth and impede regeneration. This project aims to disrupt proteoglycan biosynthesis using short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) delivered via lentiviral vectors (LV). This disruption will be assessed using in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo models of SCI. In parallel a hydrogel LV delivery system will be optimised to improve LV stability and  localisation.

Over the course of this project is anticipated that the Ph.D. student will

1. Culture mammalian cells (cell lines and primary cells).

2. Prepare and test LV to deliver short hairpin RNAs and fluorescent proteins.

3. Assess changes in protein and proteoglycan levels by techniques including Western Blotting, immunocytochemistry, and fluorescence microscopy.

4. Assess functional changes using in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo SCI models.

5. In collaboration with researchers at the Mayo Clinic, develop a hydrogel-based delivery system for LV.

6. Actively participate in research group meetings.

7. Contribute to presentations at scientific meetings and to writing of scientific papers.

8. Contribute to undergraduate and M.Sc student project supervision and laboratory-based teaching. Participate in outreach to school students and the public.

Selected Reading:

Patar, A., Dockery, P., McMahon, S. & Howard, L. Ex vivo rat transected spinal cord slices as a model to assess lentiviral vector delivery of neurotrophin-3 and short hairpin RNA against NG2. Biology (Basel). 9 (3) 54 (2020).

Shortiss, C., Howard, L. & McMahon, S. S. Lentiviral Vectors Delivered with Biomaterials as Therapeutics for Spinal Cord Injury. Cells 10, 2102 (2021).

Abu-Rub, M. T, Newland B., Naughton M., Wang W., McMahon S. and Pandit A. Non-viral xylosyltransferase-1 siRNA delivery as an effective alternative to chondroitinase in an in vitro model of reactive astrocytes. Neuroscience 339, 267–275 (2016).

Bradbury, E. J. & Burnside, E. R. Moving beyond the glial scar for spinal cord repair. Nature Communications vol. 10 (2019).

Living allowance (Stipend): €22, 000 per annum, a tax-exempt scholarship award.

University fees: Included

Start date: September 1st 2024

Academic Entry Requirements: A 2:1 degree or equivalent in a biological or biomedical science related topic. Candidates should have a high level of spoken and written English.

To Apply for the Scholarship:

Expressions of interest comprising submission of a CV, a covering letter with a statement of personal research interests and the contact details of two referees, to be submitted via e-mail to.

Contact Name: Dr Linda Howard

Contact Email:

Application Deadline: 22/07/2024 at 18:00 Irish time

Primary Supervisor name Dr Linda Howard


NUI Galway is recognized as a research-led University that addresses issues of global economic and societal importance. Our research strategy focuses on developing clusters of internationally recognised expertise in selected priority areas. We have developed meaningful and strategic research alliances with economic, social and cultural partners in areas of regional and national importance. This strategy has resulted in the creation of research clusters in themes that are academically challenging, economically viable and regionally and nationally relevant. We continue to develop our research priorities within the national and international context in addition to supporting emerging and cross cutting priority area development. Our priority research areas build upon our key strengths and include:

  • Biomedical Science and Engineering
  • Informatics, Data Analytics, Physical and Computational Sciences
  • Environment, Marine and Energy
  • Applied Social Sciences and Public Policy
  • Humanities in Context including Digital Humanities

These priority areas seek to address the challenges and needs of society. Our research leads to life changing discoveries and polices that shape the future both nationally and internationally. Our vibrant and dynamic community attracts researcher leaders, academics, entrepreneurs and students of the highest calibre who thrive in our research focused environment. This is embodied though our research commitment , which seeks to:

1. Contribute to Knowledge

2. Create partnerships with Industry

3. Educate Future Leaders

4. Shape the Direction of Public Policy

5. Enable Regional and Cultural Advancement 

Biomedical Science and Engineering

Developing innovative research programmes that promote the understanding and treatment of today’s major diseases. The core objective of this priority is to serve the needs of patients through research, to provide a real and measurable return on investment, to enhance regional and national enterprise development and to contribute to society through education and scientific outreach. Researchers focus on some of the major medical challenges that face the world today including cardiovascular disease, cancer, orthopaedic disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

Informatics, Data Analytics, Physical and Computational Sciences Science

NUI Galway’s researchers in informatics use their world-wide network of partners to take part in global standardisation efforts and to improve the way people and businesses communicate and interact. Research also addresses the problems presented by vast data sets flowing from imaging activities that need significant computing power to reduce, analyse and visualize and further research looks at modelling and simulation, which are integral to almost all physical and biological sciences.

Environment, Marine and Energy

This research area covers environmental change and modelling, atmospheric studies, biodiversity and bioinformatics, marine science and law, and sustainable energy. Research efforts towards enhanced energy efficiencies and conservation methods, renewable energy sources and new advanced environmental technologies, help address the dilemma between balanced economic growth and environmental impact.

Applied Social Sciences and Public Policy

Research programmes examine economic innovation, social change, social inclusion, balanced development and health. The Whitaker Institute applies a multiperspective research approach to business and social issues, with an impact-led focus within the following research clusters:

  • Business Performance, Agility and Governance
  • Conflict and Collective Action
  • Environment, Development and Sustainability
  • Gender, Equality and the Knowledge Society
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Innovation: People, Place and Society

Humanities in Context including Digital Humanities

Humanities at NUI Galway is a vibrant research rich area for scholarship and debate. Programmes include research into Ireland’s presence within the European and Global community and its contribution to international developments, as well as the unique contribution that NUI Galway can make to the Irish language and cultural studies.

  • Exemplary collection of archives in the James Hardiman Library dating from the 15th century to the present day including ; Archives of the Druid, Lyric Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe theatres, literary papers include the archive of John McGahern, playwrights and actors papers such as Tom Kilroy papers, and film archives include the John Huston papers.
  • Unique national training hub enables and encourages interaction between archival resources, digital cultures, the business economy, public policy and social opportunity.
  • Research informs creative practices, production values, and strategies for the creative industries.


Galway takes centre stage on Ireland’s western seaboard. A spectacularly beautiful county, it is a medley of contrasts - the wildest and remotest of countryside teamed with one of Europe’s most vibrant and popular cities. Connemara is located to the west of Galway; whilst to the south, in the mouth of Galway Bay, are the Irish speaking Aran Islands where age old traditions are found along side modern living.

Cultural Galway

Galway is known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart (Croí Cultúrtha na hÉireann), attracting thousands to the many festivals throughout the year. A few of the big attractions include The Cúirt International Festival of Literature, the Galway Arts Festival, the Galway Races and the Oyster Festival.

Vibrant Galway

Even though it is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, Galway has retained the friendly character and intimate feel that make it so popular. Galway is young at heart, with students making up 20% of the population here. Galway is the most international place in Ireland with 1 in 4 people born outside of the state.

Business In Galway

Galway is the location of choice in Europe for the medical device sector which now employs in excess of 25,000 people in over 250 companies in Ireland. Ireland is now home to 17 of the top 25 global MedTech companies and exports exceed €7.9 billion annually. Other industries include ICT, Tourism and Financial Services.

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