RVC Supervisor(s): Dr Stijn Niessen, Dr Dan O'Neill, Professor David Brodbelt, Professor David Church

Department: Clinical Science and Services

Canine hyperadrenocorticism (cHAC) is a common chronic disease usually caused by a benign ACTH-producing tumour of the pituitary. The disease leads to decreased welfare of the affected animal. Effective diagnosis and subsequent treatment can result in complete normalisation of the quality of life of the pet, though it is hampered by the need for a confident and experienced attending clinician, initiating and completing the diagnostic and management process. It is further limited by the lack of accurate diagnostic tests and monitoring tools. As such, cHAC is a good example of various conditions in veterinary medicine which represent a hurdle for inexperienced clinicians to provide the expected service to the animal.

Current mainstream treatment of cHAC is focused on inhibition of adrenal cortisol production, despite the origin of the problem usually being located in the pituitary.

The project aims to identify novel methodology to optimise the diagnostic process involved in determining the presence of cHAC, which might also be translatable to the diagnosis of other diseases, as well as novel methodology to monitor and fine-tune cHAC treatment response.

SMART Objectives:

  • To develop a range of epidemiology-related skills and knowledge (available as part of the RVC Epidemiology Master’s taught programme and within the VetCompass group) (Milestone 0-12 months).
  • To develop and validate novel hyperadrenocorticism monitoring tools (0-12 months)To acquire an understanding of the application of natural language processing and participate, as a team member, in the preparation of VetCompass-derived clinical data of dogs with and without hyperadrenocorticism for further computerised interrogation (milestone: 0-12 months)
  • To analyse the differences between the two VetCompass-based populations at different time points prior to diagnosis by using novel technology platforms that specifically exploit machine learning paradigms (milestones 12-32 months)
  • Using the above gained insights into the differences, to develop a predictive diagnostic function for cHAC to enable more effective and earlier diagnosis of the condition and validate this function by application on unanalysed original VetCompass data-set (milestones 32-38 months)
  • To characterise the canine corticotroph pituitary adenoma receptor profile using a validated Multi-plex system and banked pituitary samples, to aid selection of potential pituitary inhibitors (38-42 months)
  • To participate in the running of the RVC Small Animal Endocrinology Research Clinics (0-48 months)Write up of thesis, followed by viva (milestones 38-48 months)  


  • O'Neill DG, Scudder C, Faire JM, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, Brodbelt DC. Epidemiology of hyperadrenocorticism among 210,824 dogs attending primary-care veterinary practices in the UK from 2009 to 2014. J Small Anim Pract. 2016 Jul;57(7):365-73. doi: 10.1111/jsap.12523. Epub 2016 Jun 9.
  • Scudder C, Mirczuk SM, Richardson KM, Gostelow R, Forcada Y, McGonnell IM, Church DB, Lamb C, Kenny PJ, Korbonits M, Fowkes RC, Niessen SJM. Feline Hypersomatotropism As a Spontaneous Animal Model of Acromegaly: Molecular Analyses of Somatostatin and Dopamine Receptor Expression in GH-Secreting Adenomas in the Cat (Felis catus). Conference Proceedings Journal of Endocrinology: Endo 2016 Boston.
  • Bijsmans ES, Jepson RE, Syme HM, Elliott J, Niessen SJ. Psychometric Validation of a General Health Quality of Life Tool for Cats Used to Compare Healthy Cats and Cats with Chronic Kidney Disease. J Vet Intern Med. 2016 Jan-Feb;30(1):183-91. doi: 10.1111/jvim.13656. PubMed PMID: 26567089; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4913638. 

Essential requirements

Candidates need to be a qualified veterinary surgeon with a degree registrable with the RCVS (I.e. MRCVS eligible)

Desirable requirements:

Preference will be given to those with previous postgraduate training in internal medicine or epidemiology

This is a 4 year fully-funded studentship .

It is open to Home/EU applicants only.  International students are welcome to apply but must be able to pay the difference between UK/EU and international tuition fees

The studentship will commence late 2017 or early 2018 and will be based at the Hawkshead Campus.

How to apply 

For more information on the application process and English Language requirements see How to Apply. Applications should be made via UKPASS.

Interviews -  will be held in mid October (11th October tbc) at the  Hawkshead Campus 

We welcome informal enquiries - these should be directed to: Dr Stijn Niessen sniessen@RVC.AC.UK 

Deadline: 17/09/2017

Top of page