Rising Stars of Research at Exeter Receive MRC Fellowships

Prestigious fellowships from the Medical Research Council (MRC) will help nurture the next generation of research excellence at the University of Exeter.

Dr Kyle Wedgwood, a mathematician from the Centre for Biomedical Modelling and Analysis, and Dr Eder Zavala, a physicist from the University’s EPSRC Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare, have received substantial grants from the MRC to not only enhance their careers, but also to pioneer world-leading research in their fields.

Both Dr Wedgwood and Dr Zavala, who conduct research in the University’s pioneering Living Systems Institute, have received three –year MRC Skills Development Fellowships, designed to support early career researchers to explore, consolidate and develop their skills.

Dr Wedgwood’s research focuses on the emergent behaviour in biological tissue, and uses mathematical models to enhance our understanding of the mechanisms which produce these behaviours.

He has received a grant of £395,000 for his research project entitled “Intercellular communication in pseudoislets: shaping the dynamics of insulin secretion”.

Speaking about the award, Dr Wedgwood said: “I am delighted to have received this grant and support from the MRC. My project addresses how the networks of pancreatic beta cells work in concert to regulate blood sugar levels through insulin secretion. By better understanding this process, I hope to be able to suggest improved treatments for people with diabetes.”

Dr Zavala has also been awarded an MRC Skills Development Fellowship, worth £414,663 for a project entitled “Characterising the feedback control mechanisms of the glucocorticoid receptor within the adrenal steroidogenic regulatory network”.

His research will combine mathematical modelling with experimental techniques to investigate the mechanisms by which the body regulates the dynamics of glucocorticoid hormones (such as cortisol) in response to stress.

By developing a mathematical understanding of these mechanisms during health and disease, this research aims to improve current therapies and design novel clinical interventions on stress-related and endocrine disorders. These mathematical models will also help understand the effects of anti-inflammatory drugs –which are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK– and assist the development of algorithms that use data collected through wearable devices to monitor the progression of disease.

Dr Zavala said: “It is an honour to have been awarded this Fellowship. The fact that two awards have come to Exeter is testimony to the world-class research being conducted across the university. It also highlights the importance of carrying out interdisciplinary research and reflects the ever increasing role that mathematics is playing in addressing modern biomedical problems”

Professor John Terry, who is co-Director of the Wellcome-funded Centre for Biomedical Modelling and Analysis and Director of the EPSRC Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare said: “It is an outstanding achievement for both Kyle and Eder to receive these awards. They are undertaking some truly outstanding research and these awards will nurture both their work and their careers over the coming years.”

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