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BACKGROUND

More than 80 autoimmune diseases have now been identified, including both organ-specific and systemic conditions across a broad spectrum of disease. The majority of studies investigating autoimmune disease have been undertaken in high-income countries, and little is currently understood about the nature of autoimmune disease in low- and middle-income countries. There are large geographical differences in the incidence of certain autoimmune diseases, suggesting different environmental and genetic factors may operate across different populations. Understanding of such factors will enable enhanced understanding of the aetiology of this set of diseases and, in turn, improved prevention and control of autoimmune disease.

The China Kadoorie Biobank (CKB) is a prospective cohort study of 0.5 million adults recruited from 10 diverse localities in China between 2004 and 2008 (http://www.ckbiobank.org/). At baseline, extensive questionnaire and physical measurements data were collected, and blood samples were collected, with genomic and metabolomic data already available on a subset of participants. After about 10 years of follow-up, >40,000 deaths and >0.5 million ICD-10 coded episodes of hospitalisation for >1000 different disease types, were recorded among participants. These include multiple autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases. The CKB thus provides a valuable resource in which to investigate autoimmune disease.

RESEARCH EXPERIENCE, RESEARCH METHODS AND TRAINING

The aim of this DPhil project is to enhance understanding of the epidemiology of autoimmune disease using data from the CKB study population. The objectives of the project will be to:

  • Describe the frequency and distribution of autoimmune disease, including co-occurrence of autoimmune diseases;
  • Examine the associations of lifestyle (e.g. smoking, alcohol, spicy food and other dietary factors, physical activity), physical and biochemical characteristics (e.g. adiposity, inflammation, Vitamin D) and environmental factors (e.g. latitude, ambient temperature) with autoimmune disease;
  • Conduct genetic association analyses for autoimmune diseases, both collectively and individually
  • Characterise the impacts of autoimmune disease on morbidity and mortality.

The specific focus of the project can be refined to match the interests of the candidate.

The student will work within a multi-disciplinary team, and will gain experience in conducting systematic literature reviews, study design and planning, epidemiological and statistical methodology, statistical programming, and data analysis and presentation.

FIELD WORK, SECONDMENTS, INDUSTRY PLACEMENTS AND TRAINING 

Training opportunities will be offered as required, for example, in advanced statistical and epidemiological methods and programming. Attendance at seminars, conferences and courses provided by the Department and the University of Oxford will be encouraged.

By the end of the DPhil, it is expected that the student will be competent to plan, undertake and interpret statistical analysis of large-scale epidemiological data. The student will be expected to publish 3-5 peer-reviewed papers, and to report their findings at relevant meetings. 

PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATE

Students should have a good degree in the biomedical or life sciences with an interest in, and knowledge of, autoimmune disease. Training or experience in epidemiology or statistics, including programming, would be beneficial.

Supervisors