A Birmingham student whose research may help save the lives of children with liver disease has been awarded a three-year PhD fellowship by a charity.
The £70,000 bursary will enable Sarah Blair-Reid, who is studying at Birmingham University's Medical School, to study biliary atresia - the most common cause of liver disease in infants. The disease, which affects about 80 babies a year in Britain, causes the bile ducts to become progressively blocked and it can lead to irreversible liver damage.
Corrective surgery - the Kasai procedure - is commonly used but it is not curative and leaves two-thirds of children needing a transplant, many before the age of two.
Ms Blair-Reid, from Balsall Heath, will work alongside scientists at the university's Institute of Biomedical Research, Medical School, and Birmingham Children's Hospital's liver unit.
They will examine the role of primary or sensory cilia - which poke out from the surface of lining cells into cavities in many internal organs - during liver development.
Cilia sense fluid flow during tissue development, and a defect in this mechanism is thought to be linked with biliary atresia.
The 23-year-old's project will also look at whether there is a genetic component to biliary atresia. The Children's Liver Disease Foundation, which awarded Ms Blair-Reid her fellowship, has handed out only two other PhD fellowships in 2005.
Ms Blair-Reid said: "I am delighted that the trustees have awarded us a CLDF PhD fellowship.
"There is intense international interest in biliary atresia and whether it has a genetic pre-disposition. As such, this research project could have worldwide impact".
Catherine Arkley, CLDF's chief executive, said: "One of our prime objectives is to promote research into the causes of childhood liver disease. Few people are aware that every day at least two children in Britain will be diagnosed with liver disease - a greater incidence than childhood leukaemia.
"This project shows real potential and could offer vital hope for families of children with biliary atresia. To find its cause is something of a "holy grail" for those involved in caring for children with liver disease."