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Postgraduate Study

About the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit

Research at the Medical Research Council - Mitochondrial Biology Unit (MBU) at the University of Cambridge aims to understand the fundamental biochemical and biological processes taking place in mitochondria, and the roles and integration of mitochondria within the cell. We aim to learn about the involvement of mitochondria and mitochondrial dysfunction in human diseases, and to exploit our understanding and knowledge to develop new therapies to treat them.

There are nine Principal Investigators in the Unit, each leading an independent research group that focusses on a particular area of the Unit’s research (described individually elsewhere on this website). The Unit’s environment encourages cross-disciplinary interactions between the groups, who also collaborate extensively with other leading research groups on the local, national and international stage.

The MBU occupies spacious modern laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation, with access to further large-scale facilities as required for our research. We share the Keith Peters Building with the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR), which like the MBU is part of the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, and this proximity has helped us to develop excellent relations with both CIMR's clinical and non-clinical scientists, and with other clinical scientists in the School of Clinical Medicine. The building is part of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which is expanding rapidly into the largest Biomedical campus in Europe; we are thus situated in a prime location for our interactions with research scientists and clinicians in the School of Clinical Medicine and other nearby world-renowned institutes.

As a University MRC Unit, we are supported by core funding from the Medical Research Council and closely integrated into the academic community of the University of Cambridge.

Our members are all University employees. Our Director, Professor Judy Hirst,  holds the positions of Professor of Biological Chemistry at the University and Fellow of Corpus Christi College. Other members of our Unit are also College Fellows and participate in teaching undergraduate students. However, our most important relationship with the student body at the University is in supervising the research of our post-graduate students. The Unit has a substantial graduate student body of around 30 members, who are enrolled as PhD (or occasionally as MPhil) students at the University. We are committed to mentoring and supervising our students to the highest possible standards and their success is very important to us. Our students organise an active social and academic calendar, including joint events with student societies in other Cambridge departments and institutes.

Although scientific endeavour and success in research are the central reasons why we enjoy working at the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit, the beauty of the city and the University of Cambridge, and the cultural and social activities of the University, provide additional important dimensions. All our post-graduate students are members of Cambridge Colleges, and many Colleges now provide opportunities for post-doctoral scientists to become associated with them also. The Colleges themselves provide social contacts and routes into cultural activities, for example into music and drama. So, if you are eligible to become a post-graduate student and want to pursue research in an exciting field of biology, at the cutting edge of a new and rapidly developing area of biomedical research, then please explore our website, and do get into contact with us.

2 courses offered in the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit

The aims of the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit are to study the biology of the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell. There is a growing realisation that the dysfunction of various aspects of mitochondrial biology is connected to major neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and that as the major source of reactive oxygen species, the mitochondrion is likely also to be involved in ageing. Therefore, the Unit is developing its interests in the cell biology of mitochondria and is linking its activities to clinical science.

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Mitochondria are well known to be the powerhouses of the cell, but they do much more than this. The MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit was founded by Sir John Walker (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1997) to investigate the many roles of mitochondria, both their basic biology and how they contribute to human health and disease. Over the past decades, it has become clear that mitochondria are central to the health and function of our cells. Consequently, damage to mitochondria contributes to many important human diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation, heart attack, and stroke. In addition, genetic mutations cause a series of devastating disorders. In the MRC Mitochondrial Biology, we study aspects of many of these diseases with researchers focussing on many facets of contemporary mitochondrial biology, including understanding protein structures, the ways in which mitochondrial DNA is expressed, how mitochondria interact with the rest of the cell, the roles of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species and the development of new drugs to treat mitochondrial disorders. If these are of interest, you should look at the Unit’s Website and contact a potential supervisor or contact Penny Peck ( for advice.    

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2 courses also advertised in the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit

From the Faculty of Clinical Medicine

We provide high-quality research training to clinical health professionals with an aptitude for research to enable them to become future leaders in medical and healthcare science. We offer training in an outstanding environment, spanning basic science, translational medicine, interdisciplinary, behavioural and applied health research.

We take great pride in our track record of successfully training health professionals to undertake the highest quality research across Cambridge and Norwich. We offer one of the most rewarding environments in which you could pursue your research training with world-leading researchers in The  Schools of Clinical Medicine and Biological Sciences at the Universities of Cambridge, Wellcome Sanger Institute and other MRC, Wellcome & Cancer Research UK funded Institutes, Centres & Units in the wider Cambridge area, as well as the School of Health Sciences and Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia with other partners on the Norwich Research Park.  The most important criteria we are looking for are the pursuit of research excellence, hard work and the will to make a difference to health.

The programme faculty provides mentoring and guidance on opportunities to undertake pre-doctoral research placements, enabling successful candidates to make an informed choice of PhD project and supervisor.  Bespoke training and support for career development for fellows, together with support to supervisors, ensures a successful research experience.  Post-doctorally, we will guide fellows based on their individual progress, to make the transition into higher research fellowships and clinical pathways, enabling ongoing training with continuance of research momentum.

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From the Department of Medicine

This innovative programme was established in 2002 as a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US. Its aim is to train outstanding students in biomedical research, taking advantage of the excellent research environments in Cambridge and the US. Students work on collaborative projects organised by co-supervisors in Cambridge and the NIH, spending two years at each institution. Students have access to all NIH facilities and are paid by the NIH. The PhD is awarded by the University of Cambridge.

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