Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

Non-Funded PhD: Dr Stephen Keely - Targeting Bile Acids for the Treatment of Chronic Intestinal Diseases

Project description

Classically known for their roles in fat digestion, bile acids are now widely appreciated as a family of hormones that regulate many important aspects of human physiology.  In the intestine, bile acids regulate epithelial transport and barrier function, proliferation, apoptosis, and mucosal immunity and are involved in the pathogenesis of irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal cancer. Beyond the gut bile acids also have important roles to play in glucose and fat metabolism, energy consumption, and cardiovascular health, and consequently are implicated the development of common metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, obesity and atherosclerosis. 

When considering how bile acids impact on human health it is essential to take into account the influence of gut bacteria on their activity. The makeup of the microbiome is influenced by many factors, including diet, gender, environment, and age, such that each individual has a distinct “microbial fingerprint” that significantly impacts their overall health and well-being. Bacterially-generated bile acid metabolites are immensely important in mediating communication between the microbiome and the host. Distinct microbial  profiles generate unique “bile acid signatures” that, in turn, differentially modulate the activity of bile acid receptors to regulate intestinal and metabolic function. 

Research in our lab  focusses on understanding how bile acids function as key regulators of human health and how we can possibly target such interactions in the treatment of intestinal and metabolic diseases. Several multidisciplinary projects are ongoing in collaboration with academic and industry partners at home and abroad. We employ molecular biology, electrophysiological, biochemical, microscopy, and proteomics-based experimental approaches to discover the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying bile acid actions in health and disease. 

Students wishing to carry out PhD projects in our group are encouraged to contact the Principal Investigator. Students will be based in the Molecular Medicine Department in RCSI and will be trained in electrophysiological, molecular (PCR, Western blotting, siRNA etc.), imaging (confocal microscopy) approaches, and biochemical assays (ELISA, Reverse Phase Protein Arrays) for elucidation of bile acid actions on intestinal function.

  • Research area: Gastrointestinal physiology/epithelial biology
  • Department:Molecular Medicine
  • Tenure: Four years


The successful candidate should be able to demonstrate the following: 


  • An Honours Bachelor degree (grade 2.1 or above) in biomedical science 
  • Good communication skills
  • Strong organisational and administrative skills
  • Ability to work on one’s own initiative as well as in a multidisciplinary, team environment
  • Willingness to undertake training and career development
  • English language requirements for candidates who do not speak English as their first language: an IELTS score of 6.5 or above


Application process

Please contact Dr Stephen Keely ( with the following:

  • An up-to-date CV
  • A completed application form (available from the application portal
  • A 500-word cover letter outlining your interest in and suitability for the position
  • Scanned transcripts (preferred), or detailed degree grade breakdown
  • Contact details of two referees

Mentors Dr Stephen Keely