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Cambridge Biosciences DTP PhD Programme


Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience

Research theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health


I am a third year PhD student based at the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. I study the genetic basis of obesity using the canine genome as a primary model. Such an approach offers translation benefits for human genetics as well as mammalian genetics more widely. I hope that studying obesity from a molecular perspective contributes to an improved social understanding of this complex disease and a curtailment in obesity stigma. Beyond my PhD I am Welfare Officer and Library Invigilator at Pembroke college. I am a member of the Equality, Diversity and Wellbeing committees for my department(s). Additionally, I frequently engage in the teaching of bioinformatics, statistics and genomic medicine to undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as NHS staff. Outside of my academic career I love cooking (and eating), hiking and socialising with family and friends.


Project Title:

Genetic Underpinnings of Canine Obesity

Project Summary:

My research will focus on the genetics of obesity in dogs. We will use a combination of bioinformatic, cellular, and whole-dog models to examine gene association with obesogenic traits both within breeds and across breeds, therefore providing insight for both treatment and prevention of this disease. We study dogs to provide insight into novel genes and mechanisms of obesity in multiple species.  The dog is a compelling model organism for the study of obesity because pet dogs have increasing levels of obesity influenced by many of the same environmental factors as humans, but a very different genetic architecture which makes trait mapping uniquely tractable in the species. Extensive artificial selection has resulted in over 300 distinct breeds of dog with huge diversity between them. Small founder populations and population bottlenecks has resulted in long range linkage disequilibrium aligned to high homozygosity within breeds, which means complex traits within breeds can be mapped with fewer individuals and fewer markers than in human populations (although to much larger loci). Furthermore, the recent advent of a higher density canine SNP array means that studies in crossbred dogs is theoretically possible. We plan to undertake comparative analysis for both humans and other mammalian species. Therefore, studying dogs as a model for complex disease provides potential for insight into novel genes and mechanisms of obesity and we plan to elucidate some of the genetic architecture behind obesity predisposition.


Key publications: 

Wallis, N. and Raffan, E., 2020. The Genetic Basis of Obesity and Related Metabolic Diseases in Humans and Companion Animals. Genes, 11(11), p.1378.

Teaching and Supervisions

Research supervision: 

Dr Eleanor Raffan & Dr Giles Yeo MBE

Staff Photo

Job Titles

PhD Student