PhD Studentships Awarded by PRF

What you need to know about PhD programs

A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree, awarded to students who complete an original thesis offering a significant new contribution to knowledge in their subject.

As an earned research degree, those studying for this qualification are usually not only required to demonstrate subject-matter expertise and mastery by examination, they are also often asked to make a new scholarly contribution to a particular area of knowledge through their own original research.

John & Enyd Miles PhD

This special award has been given through the legacy of the Late prof John & Dr Enyd Miles at the request of their two sons David & Owen Miles.

Awarded  to Dr Andrew Marshall, University Liverpool in collaboration with Prof John Riddell, University Glasgow.

Defining the potential for neuromodulation of nociresponsive somatosensory cortex to treat pain.

Chronic pain is a major debilitating health care problem. Unfortunately, chronic pain is often poorly managed by existing treatments. Neuromodulation – the alteration of nerve activity by targeted delivery of a stimulus, such as a drug or electrical stimulation, to a specific neurological site – offers a chance to treat chronic pain without disabling side-effects. Current neuromodulation therapies targeting the brain or spinal cord are not typically based on mechanisms that generate pain and are often ineffective.

Our group has identified a small brain region, an area we term nBA3a/TZ, that is present in humans, non-human primates, and rodents, that we believe represents a gateway to the pain networks in the brain. This PhD studentship will address the precise role that nBA3a/TZ has in causing chronic pain. It will test the idea that when activity in nBA3a/TZ is transmitted to other pain related brain areas it causes pain signals to be amplified – a process likely to lead to chronic pain. This would mean that reducing activity in nBA3a/TZ would be expected to relieve pain.


Professor John Miles PhD Studentships Grants. 

In honour of one of our founders, Professor John Miles our PhD Grants will now be known as the Professor John Miles PhD Student Grants.

Studentships awarded:-

Awarded to Dr Maria Maiarú – university of Reading.


Targeting ion channels to combat pathophysiology of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.

Of the many different types of clinical pain, pain caused by the medicine taken to combat an existing disease is particularly devastating; it typically worsens the existing condition and leads to poorer clinical outcomes. A prevalent example is pain caused by the strong drugs used to treat cancer. In particular, many common anti-cancer drugs can cause nerve damage, often felt as tingling, numbness or burning-shooting pain. Due to such serious symptoms, it is often necessary to reduce or even stop drug treatment. Additionally, amongst the analgesic drugs currently used, there is no preventative or treatment for the nerve damage pain caused by anti-cancer drugs.

Nerve cells, including those that signal pain, can talk to each other via proteins on the cell surface called ‘ion channels’. This study will focuses on ion channels that regulate the flow of calcium into nerve cells; in particular, the ‘T-type’ calcium channel. Calcium channel function is further controlled by other proteins called auxiliary subunits. One of these auxiliary subunits is the target for ‘gabapentinoid’ pain drugs. We have recently identified a new protein, called CACHD1, that has similar properties to the subunit targeted by gabapentinoid drugs. This protein is found in high levels in pain pathways.Thus, we have proposed a potential new drug target.

We will investigate if T-type calcium channels and the CACHD1 protein represent new drug targets to prevent pain caused by anti-cancer drugs. We will use a preclinical  model to study these effects and determine if there are any differences between male and female model. We will also study the biological processes that may lead to pain associated with anti-cancer drugs. It is hoped that this fundamental research will eventually lead to much-needed new treatments for pain caused by anti-cancer drugs.

Awarded to Dr Chris Brown -University of Liverpool


Biopsychosocial Prediction Models of Pain Management Programme (PMP) Outcomes for Chronic Pain.

Chronic pain is moderately or severely disabling in an estimated 8-12% of the UK population. Those struggling to cope are often referred to multidisciplinary Pain Management Programmes (PMPs), currently considered best practice for intractable chronic pain. PMPs are resource-intensive and expensive, yet outcomes are highly variable depending on the patient, despite multidisciplinary assessment to determine suitability. We need to be able to better identify patients who are likely to benefit and/or to refine the content of PMPs to individuals, to improve overall outcomes.

There have been recent advances in the use of statistical prediction models (mathematical equations that make predictions of treatment outcome based on patient characteristics), to find out if a treatment programme is suitable for an individual patient. We outline a number of limitations of previous research into prediction models for PMPs, and how we will overcome these. Importantly, there has been little research on the impact of “enabling factors” that promote PMP engagement and long-term benefit. This project would be the first of its kind to identify positive biological, psychological and social factors that are unique in enabling individuals to benefit from PMPs (in contrast to previous studies focussing on negative traits predicting poor outcomes).

We aim to 1. Systematically review the available literature to assess the quality of evidence supporting certain predictors of outcome from PMPs; 2. Develop and test an initial statistical prediction model of PMP outcomes using an existing clinical database (the Pain Management Registry (PMR) at the Walton Centre); 3. Identify new “enabling factors” using qualitative and quantitative methods; 4. Establish the feasibility and patient acceptability of the clinical measurement of these enabling factors. The project will eventually enable clinicians to better select patients for specific PMPs (whilst maximising access and avoiding discrimination) and to tailor treatment to individual needs


Awarded to Dr Catherine Preston – University of York


Visual body illusion for treatment of chronic osteoarthritis pain

Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of pain and disability in the UK, particularly in those over 50, and an ageing population means that the social and financial cost of osteoarthritis is increasing. Recent studies report that patients find current treatments unsatisfactory and that they often have severe side-effects, or even make clinical outcomes worse. Therefore, the need for an effective, drug-free treatment is imperative. Although osteoarthritis is characterised by damage to joint cartilage, there is growing evidence that arthritic pain is exacerbated by abnormalities in the brain’s representation of the affected joint.

Our previous studies have already shown dramatic pain relief and increased feelings of joint flexibility from body illusions that change the perceived size of arthritic joints. However, currently the methodology for delivering these analgesic illusions is expensive and cumbersome. A possible solution to this is through the development of body illusions relying on vision only, removing the need for expensive technology. Recent research suggests that immersive multisensory experiences, such as virtual or augmented reality, are not essential for delivering body illusions; changes to the perception of our bodies can be induced using non-immersive visual-only manipulations. However, it is currently unclear whether visual-only illusions have the same analgesic potential as fully immersive multisensory illusions. This question is important as visual-only illusions could allow for these methods to be widely accessible to patients via mobile phone applications. 

This project will examine the therapeutic potential of visual body illusions for pain management in osteoarthritis. To achieve this, we will compare brain responses along with subjective changes in bodily perception and pain intensity between visual-only and multisensory illusions. Additionally, we will investigate the potential cumulative effect of experiencing visual illusions on arthritic pain, delivered using a mobile phone application.


Awarded to Dr Liz Cordingly, University of Manchester – PhD Studentship Danielle Mountain


 One and the same?”: An in-depth investigation into the complexities of pain experiences of children and young people with inflammatory and non-inflammatory conditions

Chronic pain is experienced by up to 40% of children and young people and can have a major impact on function and wellbeing. Pain may last longer than expected through complex biological and psychological processes, many of which are not well understood. Treatment approaches tend to be based on whether the individual is considered to have either ‘inflammatory’ or ‘non-inflammatory’ pain. ‘Inflammatory’ pain is seen as a symptom of an underlying condition (such as juvenile arthritis) and non-inflammatory pain is often used to describe pain where there is no other medical cause. We know very little about whether children or young people experience pain differently depending on the diagnosis, nor do we know about the impact that each of these diagnoses have on individuals, such as the frequency or severity of pain episodes between these groups. This is important to investigate given that each of these diagnoses are managed differently, in ways which may not be appropriate based upon our limited understanding of how pain works within these conditions.

This PhD studentship will be the first project to explore this important ‘pain type’ distinction, both through qualitative and quantitative methods. The candidate will use new and novel data collection tools, alongside well-established methods such as interviews. As part of our team’s ongoing research, we have developed an iPad application called My Pain Tracker (MPT), which captures multiple features of pain. It is preferred by young people, because rather than simply rating their pain severity from 1-10, they can communicate more about their pain experiences, such as its location, quality, intensity, emotional impact or degree of interference with normal activities. MPT now allows us to be able to address more sophisticated research questions than has previously been possible and this studentship will be at the forefront of this exciting field.

(2020- 2023)


Awarded  to Dr Abbie Jordan – PhD Studentship


Exploring resilience in adolescents with chronic pain and their parents.

Research studies have shown us that chronic pain has a harmful effect on the lives of many young people, resulting in emotional distress, physical disability and changed relationships. However, some young people report feeling more able to manage the challenges posed by living with chronic pain than others do, even when levels of pain and disability are similar. Researchers understand this ability to ‘bounce back’ from life challenges and difficulties as ‘resilience’. Yet, we know very little about how resilience is understood and experienced by young people living with chronic pain and their parents.

Through a series of related studies, this studentship will provide a detailed account of how young people with chronic pain and parents understand ‘resilience’, how they experience resilience, and its impact on their lives. Study one will review the evidence surrounding chronic pain in young people and resilience. Using a technique called Q-sort, the second study will ask 20 young people with chronic pain, 20 parents and 20 healthcare professionals to rank statements about resilience and pain. This will help us to understand how different groups think about resilience. Study three will collect questionnaire data over three-time points from 100 young people with chronic pain (10-24 years) and parents regarding their pain-related disability, resilience and well-being. In study four, 20 pairs of young people and parents will tell us about their everyday experiences of resilience by completing daily online diaries for two weeks.

Study findings will provide important insights into how young people and parents understand and experience resilience over time. This new knowledge will inform treatment of chronic pain in young people by enabling the development of resilience-focused treatments, which will provide tools to young people with chronic pain, and parents to enable them to better manage their pain and its impact on their lives.
An investigation into the meaning and differential impact of resilience among adolescents with chronic pain and their parents



Awarded to Dr Andreas Goebel, University Liverpool – Serena Sensi

Amount awarded: £84,600

Title: Assessment of DRG surface binding by CRPS-serum-IgG 



Awarded to Dr U Alam, University of Liverpool – PhD Studentship – Jamie Burgess

Amount awarded – £54,455

Title: Defining small fibre neuropathy & neuropathic pain in  idiopathic fibre neuropathy&   chemotherapy.’induced peripheral neuropathy.

The aim of this PhD studentship is to develop a highly skilled future pain researcher, through novel research and training embedded within a multi-disciplinary team of experts in peripheral neuropathy, pain medicine, neurophysiology and corneal ophthalmology. Moving forward, this PhD studentship will equip the candidate with transferable skills of image analyses, laboratory analyses and clinical techniques in pain assessment.

We hypothesise that the non-invasive real-time ocular imaging technique of corneal confocal microscopy can detect damage to the small nerve fibres (which are the same type of nerve fibres that conduct pain) as accurately as skin biopsy. We also hypothesise that damage detected in small nerve fibres by corneal confocal microscopy and skin biopsy are related to the types of pain felt. This PhD studentship will assess people with the painful conditions of idiopathic small fibre neuropathy (ISFN) and chemotherapy-induced neuropathy (CIPN).


Awarded to Dr Abbie Jordan, University of Bath – PhD Studentship – Sharon Bateman

Amount awarded – £30,000

A double burden? A multi method investigation into the experience of paediatric chronic pain and mental health symptoms.

 Through a series of novel yet related studies, this studentship will provide a detailed account of the challenges that youth who experience chronic pain and mental health symptoms face and how these challenges form barriers to their treatment. The first study will include a review of the current literature to better understand the evidence concerning the relationship between chronic pain in youth and mental health symptoms. The second study will involve collecting questionnaire and interview data over two-time points from 100 youth aged 11-19 years and their parents/caregivers regarding their pain-related disability, mental health symptoms and social relationships. The final study will use interviews and an online survey to explore how 50 clinicians think about treating youth with chronic pain and mental health symptoms and associated challenges faced in this treatment process.

Study findings from this series of PhD studies will be used to provide important insights into the challenges and impact of living with chronic pain and mental health symptoms in youth. This new knowledge will inform the existing treatment of chronic pain and mental health in youth, enabling healthcare professionals to better support youth and their families

(2018 – 2021) 


Awarded to Dr Abbie Jordan, University of Bath – PhD Studentship – Abbie Jones

Amount awarded – £60,100

Title: Keeping on track: Exploring socio-developmental challenges faced by young people  with ongoing pain and their families

This PhD studentship will involve conducting a number of related studies to examine some of the particular difficulties that young people with ongoing pain report with engaging with everyday teenage activities.  Such difficulties might include visiting friends or becoming more independent from parents.  We will use a variety of different research methods to examine exactly what these challenges look like for young people and how these challenges affect the lives of young people who experience ongoing pain and families.  Study findings will help healthcare professionals to work with young people and their families to identify ways of supporting young people to engage with age appropriate teenage activities despite experiencing pain

(2017 – 2020)


Awarded to Dr Sarah Flatters, Kings College, London – PhD Studentship  – Christina Ferguson

Amount awarded – £60,000

Title: ‘Causal mechanisms of chemotherapy- induced painful neuropathy’

Chemotherapy-induced painful neuropathy (CIPN) is the major dose-limiting side-effect of several widely-used, first-line chemotherapeutics impacting survival and quality of life in millions of patients worldwide, every year. There is no treatment to prevent or reverse CIPN. Thus, the emergence of neuropathy causes dose reduction or cessation of effective cancer treatment, limiting patient survival. This studentship aims to facilitate the development of adjunct therapies for CIPN by understanding how CIPN occurs.

(2017 – 2020)


Awarded to Professor John Quinn, University of Liverpool – PhD Studentship Emma Price

Amount awarded – £63,327

Title: The potential for retrotransposon mobilisation to modulate sensory loss in ageing

(2016- 2019)