The molecular biology of back pain: identifying determinants of spine health amenable for therapeutic intervention


The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is part of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. We excel in high quality research that contributes to improved health and quality of life for older people and animals and alleviates chronic diseases at all ages. Our departments are now seeking to attract highly motivated self-funded PhD candidates of outstanding ability to join our internationally rated research teams.

According to the recent Global Burden of Disease study, back pain is the single most common cause of disability. Back pain is typically caused by intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration, treated with symptomatic but not disease-modifying interventions. The persistence of this global problem is related to our limited understanding of the cell types and pathways linked to IVD health or disease.  

Using loss and gain of function mouse models Professor George Bou-Gharios (University of Liverpool, UK) and Dr Cheryle Seguin (University of Western Ontario, Canada) have joined their efforts to develop a research program with innovative approaches to study IVD biology, with the goal of identifying determinants of spine health amenable for therapeutic intervention.

Using mouse harbouring Cre recombinase driven by either aggrecan or notochord, we will examine a number of key genes responsible for the formation and maintenance of the IVD. One such gene is CCN2, which has been shown to be important in its ability to regulate extracellular matrix synthesis and tissue formation. While notochord-specific conditional CCN2 inactivation expression in vivo, results in major pathology but takes a year to develop, aggrecan-driven inactivation takes three months with impact in both NP and AF. These changes will be studied in depth and pathways that lead to pathologies will be investigated as a target for interventions. While associated with some inherent limitations, animal models are a useful approach to study disc degeneration since they preserve the complex microenvironment of the IVD.

The student will have first class training in biology of IVD, molecular biology techniques of cloning and vector technology for the generation of transgenic mice. Imaging using µCT and cell biology of components of the IVD with a focus on matricellular proteins.

The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is fully committed to promoting gender equality in all activities. We offer a supportive working environment with flexible family support for all our staff and students and applications for part-time study are encouraged. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

Please note this position will remain open until a suitable candidate is found.

To apply please write, attaching your CV, to Professor George Bou-Gharios in the first instance on with copy to


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Self-funded project

Applicants must have an MSc in biological sciences 

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees, living expenses and research costs of around £20,000 per year. There is NO funding attached to this project. Details of costs can be found on the University website. We have a thriving international researcher community and encourage applications from students of any nationality able to fund their own studies or who wish to apply for their own funding.   



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