Elucidating the link between vitamin D and immune health in ethnic groups: Mechanistic and population-based studies (FoodBioSystems DTP)

The FoodBioSystems Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) brings together six university partners: University of Reading, Cranfield University, University of Surrey, Queen’s University Belfast, Aberystwyth University, and Brunel University London.

The Partnership’s vision is to develop the next generation of bioscientists with in-depth knowledge and technical expertise of food systems and biological processes across the Agri-Food system from pre-farm to post-fork. They will become the urgently needed experts - able to transform the food value chain and address challenges of sustainability, efficacy, authenticity and safety in food production systems whilst delivering better nutrition and concomitant health benefits for society.

Start date

1 October 2021


4 years

Application deadline

Funding source

BBSRC FoodBiosystems Doctoral Training Partnership

Funding information

Funding is for the full 48 months of the studentship with a stipend of £15,609 per annum with annual increases for inflation.

Studentship fees are covered for UK /EU citizens only. Up to 30 per cent of the studentships may be awarded to international students. For international FoodBioSystems DTP studentships based at the University of Surrey, the University will be covering the difference in the UK/Republic of Ireland fees and International Fees for international UKRI funded students.

Full eligibility, funding and application details can be found on the FoodBioSystems DTP page.

This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding.


Vitamin D deficiency is becoming increasingly common in the UK, EU and worldwide. Ethnic sub-groups with darker skin are considered at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than lighter skinned populations, because of the skin pigment melanin and/or clothing coverage required by religious and cultural restrictions which reduces their ability to synthesise endogenous vitamin D. Increasing evidence demonstrates strong associations between vitamin D status and non-musculoskeletal health outcomes, including immune modulation and infectious diseases.

Until now, Covid-19 has caused more than one million deaths worldwide. Ethnic subgroups with darker skin are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 which has been recognised as an urgent public health research issue. Therefore, this project will investigate whether there is a link between vitamin D (dietary intake and nutritional status) and markers of immune health in ethnic groups using:

  1. A population-based approach
    1. Systematic review/meta-analysis of globally available data on vitamin D and upper/lower respiratory tract infections/Covid 19
    2. Further analysis of vitamin D and markers of immune health in UK Biobank on white Caucasian and other ethnic groups
  2. A mechanistic approach - to examine the relationship between the cytokine ‘storm’ and vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency in White European, South Asian, Black Afro-Caribbean and Arabic populations
  3. A randomized controlled trial approach to investigate the effectiveness of Vitamin D Skin Patches in raising vitamin D status in ethnic groups and the concomitant effect on markers of immune health.


You will receive broad and specialised training including in systematic review and meta-analysis, analysis of big data epidemiology (prospective cohort study), clinical analysis techniques, and other transferable skills (e.g. time management and project management).

You will co-design elements of the research with both the University of Surrey and the University of Reading enabling you to direct both the direction of your research and personal development. You will have a broad and specialised training programme, aligned to the project aims. These will be provided through the University of Surrey’s expertise in nutritional epidemiology (including systematic review and meta-analysis and use of the UK Biobank) and the University of Reading’s expertise in conducting human nutrition studies.

The work placements in the Food Industry (Yakult UK) and Nutritional Sciences Communications and Regulation (Association for Nutrition) will provide key experience for the student in the relevancy of their work to the wider nutritional sciences field. Collaboration with the Institute of Navel Medicine, Ministry of Defence will provide the student with examples of how scientific research is translated into changing Government policy.

The DTP is currently advertising 52 projects. From these, it is expected 26 studentships will be awarded to the strongest application to start their studies in October 2021.

Related links

FoodBioSystems DTP website

Lanham-New Susan A., Webb Ann R., Cashman Kevin et al. Vitamin D and SARS-CoV2 virus/COVID-19 disease (2020). British Medical Journal (Nutrition, Health & Prevention). DOI

Darling Andrea L., Blackbourn David J., Ahmadi Kourosh R., Lanham-New Susan A. (2020) Very High Prevalence of 25-hydroxyvitamin D Deficiency in n 6433 UK South Asian adults: analysis of the UK Biobank Cohort. British Journal of Nutrition pp. 1-34 Cambridge University Press DOI: 10.1017/S0007114520002779

Eligibility criteria

We expect successful applicant to hold a BSc degree (with at least UK 2:1 honours, or equivalent) or an MSc degree with distinction in a discipline relevant to the specific project.

This project would be suitable for students with a degree in nutrition, epidemiology, food science or a closely related subject.

This studentship is available for UK and international students.

IELTS requirements: The standard requirement is for a score of 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category, in an IELTLS Academic test taken in the last 2 years. 

How to apply

To apply, please use the FoodBiosystems online application system. References requirements set out in the online application system.

Successful applicants for the Surrey-based studentships will subsequently be required to complete the University of Surrey online postgraduate researcher application.

Interviews will be conducted remotely over Zoom.

Application deadline

Contact details

Susan Lanham-New
24 AY 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686476
E-mail: S.Lanham-New@surrey.ac.uk

Studentships at Surrey

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