• Room 03.020 - Clinical Science B

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Dr McKay is open to wide-ranging PhD applications from candidates with a basic science or clinical background. Fields of research interests include: Diabetic complications Biomarker discovery Stratified Medicine Previous research experience is desirable although not essential.


Research output per year

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Personal profile


In 2002, I started a research fellowship in the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen's, undertaking genetic analyses of inherited retinal dystrophies and complex ophthalmic conditions.  I was offered a faculty position as a Lecturer in Bioinformatics within the Centre for Public Health in 2010. To date, I have successfully trained 9 PhD, 4 Masters and 4 undergraduate intercalating medical students.  I have authored 2 book chapters,  >80 peer-reviewed articles (Scopus h-index 25, >3700 citations, December 19) and been PI on successful research grant awards from the MRC, NI Health and Social Care and Diabetes UK, with over £3.3M of grant income as co-I.

Research interests include biomarker discovery associated with microvascular dysfunction in diabetes and its complications in the kidney, heart and eye.  Data from non-invasive retinal imaging may provide informative biomarkers to identify early microvascular decline in ‘at risk’ individuals. In addition, given the neural retina is an extension of the brain, these biomarkers may also identify cognitive decline.

Additional interests include identification of (epi)genetic risk factors associated with diabetes and its complications, dementia and other chronic diseases, including nutrigenomic disease risk, socioeconomic factors and serum carotenoid and antioxidant levels, particularly vitamin E.

Novel biomarker discovery to prioritise ‘at risk’ individuals for appropriate preventative strategies will improve patient outcomes, particularly when clinical options are limited.

Research Statement

I lead a small international team of postdocs, PhD and Masters students investigating the molecular pathogenesis of dementia and diabetes-associated complications through research on genomic, physiological and nutritional factors that influence healthy ageing and human disease. Studies have focused on candidate genes, prioritised genetic regions, genome-wide and epigenome-wide screens, and whole exome/genome sequencing.  Data has been evaluated from individuals recruited as part of multi-centre collections, including UK Biobank and the Northern Ireland Cohort of Longitudinal Ageing, which focuses on older individuals living in Northern Ireland.


I contribute to undergraduate medicine and biomedical science teaching in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, including the development of 2 new modules. I also contribute to postgraduate teaching in our centre and medical school. Current teaching commitments also include participation in standard setting, exam boards, progress reviews, postgraduate research boards.  The following are a list of my teaching activities:

Undergraduate Teaching

Medicine Year 1

MED1023: Principles of Disease and Treatment 1

MED1012: Personal and Professional Development Portfolio

MED1021: Student Selected Component (Module coordinator - Genomic Impact in Medicine) 

Medicine Year 2 

MED2016: Student Selected Component

MED2018: Personal and Professional Development Portfolio

Biomedical Science Year 2

BMS2103: Cell Biology and Clinical Genetics (Module co-coordinator) 

Biomedical Science Year 3 

BMS3112: Research Project 

Biological Sciences Year 3

BIO3308: Research Project

Postgraduate Teaching 

Masters in Public Health 

SCM8030: Dissertation - Public Health

Masters in Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics 

SCM8095: Genomics and Human Disease (Module co-coordinator)


I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and an Editorial Board Member for the journals, Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group), the International Journal of Molecular Epidemiology and Genetics (e-Century Publishing Corporation) and the Journal of Diabetes Research (Hindawi Publishing Group).


Administrative and Managerial roles

Since 2015, I have been an expert reviewer and LIF panel Vice Chair for multiple EU Horizon 2020 programmes including Innovative Medicines Initiative 2, Marie Sktodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks and Marie Sktodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships.  I am the DI licence holder for the Queen’s University Royal Victoria Hospital site with statutory regulatory responsibilities for licensed activities under the Human Tissue Act (2004) and sit on the University HTA Committee.  I chair the Centre for Public Health ‘Health and Safety Committee’ and sit on the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science Health and Safety Committee.  I am a member of the Senior Management Team in tne Centre for Public Health. I have undertaken external examiner roles at the University of Edinburgh (2016) and University College Dublin (2017).


Outreach Activities

I meet with patient groups from Alzheimer's Research UK and Diabetes UK to discuss our research. I have undertaken STEM activities at W5 including heading the judging panel for 'Debating Science Issues' in addition to public engagement events as part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival on genetics. We host regular work-placement students and I am a champion for the Nuffield Research Placement Programme for Northern Ireland. I have given talks at secondary schools, science fairs and other events aimed at encouraging students to pursue careers in science and medicine.

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Research Output

Association between Hypertension and Retinal Vascular Features in Ultra-Widefield Fundus Imaging

Robertson, G., Fleming, A., Williams, M. C., Trucco, E., Quinn, N., Hogg, R., McKay, G., Kee, F., Young, I., Pellegrini, E., Newby, D. E., van Beek, E. J. R., Peto, T., Dhillon, B. & van Hemert, J., 08 Jan 2020, In : Open Heart.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
  • 45 Downloads (Pure)

    Association of reduced inner retinal thicknesses with Chronic Kidney Disease

    Paterson, E. N., Ravindran, M. L., Griffiths, K., Le Velly, C. A., Cardwell, C. C., McCarter, R. V., Nicol, P., Chhablani, J. K., Rasheed, M. A., Vupparaboina, K. K., MacGillivray, T. J., Harbinson, M., Maxwell, A. P., Hogg, R. E. & McKay, G. J., 31 Jan 2020, In : BMC Nephrology. 21, 1, p. 37

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • 31 Downloads (Pure)

    Simple non-mydriatic retinal photography is feasible and demonstrates retinal microvascular dilation in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

    McKay, G. J., McCarter, R. V., Hogg, R. E., Higbee, D. H., Bajaj, M-P. K., Burrage, D. R., Ruickbie, S., Baker, E. H., Jones, P. W. & Dodd, J. W., 10 Jan 2020, In : PLoS ONE. 15, 1, 12 p., e0227175.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • 40 Downloads (Pure)

    A multimodal approach to cardiovascular risk stratification in patients with type 2 diabetes incorporating retinal, genomic and clinical features

    Fetit, A. E., Doney, A. S., Hogg, S., Wang, R., MacGillivray, T., Wardlaw, J. M., Doubal, F. N., McKay, G. J., McKenna, S. & Trucco, E., 05 Mar 2019, In : Scientific Reports. 9, 10 p., 3591.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • 2 Citations (Scopus)
    132 Downloads (Pure)
  • Prizes

    British Pharmacological Society Clinical Undergraduate Prize

    McKay, Gareth (Recipient), 18 Dec 2018

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

    McKay, Gareth (Recipient), 2011

    Prize: Election to learned society


    Marie Sktodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks (Event)

    Gareth McKay (Member)

    29 Jan 20162017

    Activity: Membership typesMembership of peer review panel or committee

    Interpreting the epigenetics landscape - a UK Research Councils joint meeting

    Gareth McKay (Contributor)

    16 Apr 201517 Apr 2015

    Activity: Consultancy typesContribution to the work of national or international committees and working groups

    Scientific Reports (Journal)

    Gareth McKay (Editorial board member)

    02 Feb 2015 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial work typesEditorial activity

    Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (External organisation)

    Gareth McKay (Chair)

    01 Oct 201530 Sep 2018

    Activity: Membership typesMembership of peer review panel or committee

    Evaluation of retinal vascular calibre in the Irish Nun Eye Study

    Gareth McKay (Member)

    2014 → …

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


    Identification and Evaluation of Novel Biomarkers in Diabetic Kidney Disease

    Author: Zang, J., Jul 2020

    Supervisor: McKay, G. (Supervisor), Maxwell, A. (Supervisor) & Simpson, D. (Supervisor)

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

    Investigation of Novel Biomarkers Associated with Renal Disease

    Author: Paterson, E., Jul 2020

    Supervisor: McKay, G. (Supervisor) & Maxwell, A. (Supervisor)

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy