Using lipid nano-particles to study G-protein-coupled receptors

Using lipid nano-particles to study G-protein-coupled receptors

Eligibility: UK/EU graduates with the required entry requirements

Funding details: Tuition fees plus stipend

Duration: Full-time – three and a half years fixed term

Application deadline: 31st August 2020

Interview dates: Will be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Start date: September 2020

For queries contact Professor Mark Wheatley.

The Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences are seeking a highly-motivated candidate for this exciting PhD project in the laboratory of Professor Mark Wheatley, Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology.

It is a joint PhD between Coventry University and Stellenbosch University with the student registered for a PhD at both Universities. The successful candidate will be based at Coventry University and will spend a few months in the laboratory of Professor Klumperman at Stellenbosch University during the course of the PhD.

Upon successful completion the student will be awarded a PhD by both Institutions.


G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) form the largest family of membrane proteins in the human genome and are the therapeutic target for ~40% of clinically-prescribed drugs. Understanding their structure and function at the molecular level is of fundamental importance. Using styrene maleic acid (SMA) co-polymer, we reported the first purification of active GPCR encapsulated in nano-scale SMA lipid particles (SMALPs), in the complete absence of detergent, thereby preserving the native lipid environment of the GPCR. This is ‘cutting edge’ research.

This is a multidisciplinary project combining molecular pharmacology, fluorescence techniques and biophysics. We will exploit our powerful SMALP technologies to provide new insights into GPCR structure and molecular mechanisms, including conformational changes associated with activation and drug binding, using engineered receptors with fluorescent ligands and probes and developing novel SMA-like polymers specifically tailored for GPCR research.

This project will provide the student with a broad skill-base, working with an international collaborative team and expertise relevant to a future career in either academia or the pharmaceutical industry.


This is a fully funded PhD - tuition fee and stipend


1 return flight plus visa costs for research period at Stellenbosch University (3-6 month stay to be agreed with the candidate depending on project requirements)

Co-tutelle arrangement with Stellenbosch University:

Coventry University funds fees and stipend for the period the candidate spends at CU through a QR match-funded studentship as follows:

  • Fees waived by the Research Centre for the 3.5 PhD years
  • Stipend at standard UKVI levels for the period spent at CU
  • 1 return flight +visa costs for research period at Stellenbosch University (3-6 month stay to be agreed with the candidate depending on project requirements)

Stellenbosch University waives their fees for the programme and provides a bursary to cover living expenses and accommodation for the 3-6 months the candidate is based with them (R10,000 per month, average bursary levels a PhD student at SU)


  • Our research strategy is underpinned by a £250m investment in research and facilities 
  • Dedicated Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability Development deliver high quality professional support for researchers, from PhD to Professor
  • Free training: research career planning, managing your doctorate, research communication skills, research ethics, research impact, research integrity, research methods and research supervision
  • Coventry is a member of the Doctoral Training Alliance (DTA), the largest multi-partner and only nationwide doctoral training initiative of its kind.

Entry requirements

A minimum of a 2:1 first degree in a relevant discipline/subject area with a minimum 60% mark in the Project element or equivalent with a minimum 60% overall module average.

In the event of a first degree classification of less than 2:1, a Masters Degree in a relevant subject area will be considered as an equivalent. The Masters must have been attained with overall marks at minimum merit level (60%). In addition, the dissertation or equivalent element in the Masters must also have been attained with a mark at minimum merit level (60%).


Candidates must apply and be accepted to both universities in order to be accepted for the dual award programme. Candidates are strongly advised to apply to Coventry as soon as possible, and to both universities well in advance of the 31st August 2020 deadline for complete applications with full supporting documentation.

Stellenbosch University reserves the right to request original and/or additional supporting documentation should this be deemed necessary at any point.

Institutional Profiles

Coventry University has been voted ‘Modern University of the Year’ three times running by The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide. Ranked in the UK’s top 12 (Guardian University Guide), we have a global reputation for research with impact and high quality teaching. Almost two-thirds (61%) of our research was judged ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014.

This research will take place within the Centre for Sports, Exercise and Life Sciences (CSELS) reflects a broad range of sport, exercise and biological associated sciences to understand life from the level of molecules through to the whole body. The Centre has considerable expertise, ranging from microbiology, cell biology, genomic and molecular biology, biochemistry, molecular pharmacology, nutrition and food science, safety pharmacology, physiology, physical activity and sport performance. CSELS doctoral training was awarded prestigious accreditation from the Royal Society of Biology, the first university in the UK to hold this accolade.

Stellenbosch University is amongst South Africa's leading tertiary institutions based on research output, student pass rates and rated scientists, and is recognised internationally as an academic institution of excellence. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, SU is one of the top 300 universities in the world. lt also features among the world's elite institutions in 10 of the 36 subjects featured in the QS World University Rankings by Subject for 2015. Stellenbosch is home to an academic community of 29 000 students (including 4 000 foreign students from 100 countries) on five campuses. The historical oak-lined university town amongst the Boland Mountains in the winelands of the Western Cape creates a unique campus atmosphere. This, together with the scenic beauty of the area; state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly facilities and technology, as well as visionary thinking about the creation of a sustainable 21st-century institution, makes for the University’s unique character.

Prof. Bert Klumperman is a formal collaborator on this project and is holder of the NRF/DST South African Research Chair on Advanced Macromolecular Architectures, hosted by Stellenbosch University. The successful candidate will have the added benefit of joining his 20-strong research group for a few months during this PhD project.

How to apply

Candidates must apply both to Coventry University and to Stellenbosch University.

Apply online to Coventry University submitting full supporting documentation, and covering letter only.

Apply online to Stellenbosch University.

Please identify yourself clearly in the body of your application as a “Coventry-based dual award student.”

Apply to Coventry University
Coventry University ranked 15 in the UK
Coventry University awarded TEF GOLD Teaching Excellence Framework
University of the year for student experience
QS Five Star Rating 2019
Coventry City of Culture 2021