Diet and gastrointestinal health
Gastrointestinal diseases, including diverticular disease and inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) are particularly prevalent in high-income Western countries such as the United Kingdom. Several dietary factors, including Western-style diets and individual foods and nutrients (e.g. high meat and low fibre), have been proposed to be modifiable risk factors for these conditions. For example, previous research from our group suggests that vegetarians and vegans have a substantially lower risk of diverticular disease than meat eaters. Additionally, our collaborative work with other European cohorts showed that people with higher meat consumption had higher risk of ulcerative colitis. Overall, the literature for both outcomes is scarce, and it remains unclear whether the associations might be driven by the overall dietary pattern, by specific dietary components such as meat, fruit and vegetables, or by fibre intake.
The overall aim of this DPhil project is to investigate the associations of dietary factors and related biomarkers with risk of gastrointestinal diseases, using data from EPIC-Oxford, EPIC-IBD, UK Biobank and the Million Women Study.
The specific objectives of this DPhil are:
- To investigate the associations of different dietary factors (including dietary patterns e.g. vegetarian diets, food groups or nutrients) with diverticular disease and inflammatory bowel disease, using data from large prospective studies (EPIC-Oxford, UK Biobank, Million Women Study, EPIC-IBD for inflammatory bowel disease).
- To assess the reliability of diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease using electronically linked hospital admissions data compared with primary care (General Practitioners) data, using data from UK Biobank.
- To identify potential blood biomarkers of relevant dietary factors using metabolomics and proteomics data in EPIC-Oxford and UK Biobank.
- To explore whether the identified biomarkers are potential mediators of diet and gastrointestinal diseases, including the potential use of genetic predictors to evaluate causality.
RESEARCH EXPERIENCE, RESEARCH METHODS AND TRAINING
The student will perform a literature review on the topic, and plan and conduct statistical analyses using large-scale datasets. The student will also be expected to present the results in internal meetings, as well as at national and international conferences, and to write papers for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
FIELD WORK, SECONDMENTS, INDUSTRY PLACEMENTS AND TRAINING
Support and training for specific research methods and statistical analyses will be provided within the department. There will also be an opportunity to collaborate with external researchers within the EPIC network.
The project will suit someone with an interest in nutritional epidemiology. The ideal candidate will have strong quantitative skills, a background in biological sciences or related fields, and postgraduate level training in epidemiology, statistics or public health.