PhD Opportunities

PhD Opportunities

Possible research topics to be undertaken in the Biomedical Engineering Division of the School of Engineering are given below. If you are interested in any of these projects, you should email the prospective supervisor associated to the chosen topic for discussing your intentions (see contact details by following the topic link).

Alternatively, you are welcome to identify a different project topic within any of our research areas and email your project proposal to the Head of Division, Prof Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez (Manuel.Salmeron-Sanchez@glasgow.ac.uk), who will direct you towards a prospective supervisor with expertise in that area.

[Funded] Engineering hydrogels with 3D printing for stem cell differentiation - Prof. M. Salmeron-Sanchez

Supervisors

Professor Manuel Salemeron-Sanchez; Professor Matthew Dalby (Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology);

Description

Bone is the second most transplanted tissue behind blood, yet it is typically harvested from the patient themselves, often leaving chronic pain. For this reason a source of lab grown bone would be preferential. This requires materials which can stimulate stem cells into forming bone. In addition materials will ideally be injectable or compatible with the latest generation of 3D bioprinters, allowing production of custom biological implants.

Hydrogels are of particular interest, allowing incorporation of cells and use as a bio-ink, however these materials require functionalisation with bioactive molecules. BMP-2 is one such growth factor which potently stimulates bone production in mesenchymal stem cells, as studied intensively in our group.

In this project we aim to functionalise a class of synthetic hydrogels for the purposes of developing novel bone graft materials. We will aim to stimulate cultured adult stem cells through addition of bioactive molecules such as fibronectin and BMP-2. We will then seek to test the gel composites for the purposes of 3D bioprinting as a novel bio-ink.

3D printer

Figure 1. 3D bioprinter. 

We are looking for an enthusiastic and motivated student who feels confortable at the interface between engineering and biomedical sciences. The project is hihgly multidisciplinary and will require developing strategies around the functionalisation of hydrogels, 3D printing and stem cell biology. 

Applicants should have a first class degree in any of these disciplines: Engineering, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Biotechnology, Medicine and the Life Sciences. Please submit a CV, record of transcripts, cover letter and two letters of reference to Manuel.Salmeron-Sanchez@glasgow.ac.uk.

FUNDING is available for UK/EU students only. 

PhD Studentship provides: an annual tax-free stipend of £17,500, increasing to £18,000 over the four years; tuition fees at UK/EU rates only; consumables; and contribution to travel expenses. International fees are not covered.

Application Deadline - Wednesday, April 18, 2018. 

Contact: Manuel.Salmeron-Sanchez@glasgow.ac.uk


Low Cost Sensors for Microbial Source Tracking for Monitoring Water Quality - Dr. Z. Yang

Supervisors

Dr. Zhugen Yang; Professor Jon Cooper

Description

Water contamination with microbial organisms is a global issue. Even with well-operated drinking water treatment systems, such as those available in Scotland and Europe, drinking water distribution systems are vulnerable to episodic pathogen intrusion (from pressure losses, repairs or rain-induced run-off of dirty water from agriculture). Contaminations also impact upon remote, rural local distribution systems with decentralised facilities, such as those present in many low and middle income countries (LMICs), as well as remote areas of ‘developed’ countries (such as in villages the Highlands in Scotland).

In this project, low-cost, deployable biosensor devices (lab-on-paper) will be developed for the online monitoring of water quality to address such global water contamination issues. Using a paper-microfluidic sensor, similar in its size to a pregnancy test, we will develop rapid, sensitive and easy-to-use sample-to-answer testing devices which can be widely deployed to identify multiple pathogens in drinking water and track their source. These novel devices will also help identify microbial and human contamination patterns and dynamics.

Working with Scottish Water and other industry partners, we aim to translate this new understanding on the dynamics and transportation of microbial contamination into effective monitoring strategies and remediation processes, to maintain "sustainable communities and sustainable homes”. In future, our platform will also enable source tracking and monitoring in the wider environment around agricultural processes, including the emergence of antibiotic resistant genes (a major global challenge). 

Candidates with backgrounds from Engineering, Chemistry, Biology and Environment Science are welcome to apply. She/he will have opportunity to secondment to industry partners. 

Contact: Zhugen.Yang@glasgow.ac.uk


Single-cell microfluidic technology to tackle antibiotic resistance - Dr. H Yin

Supervisor

Professor Huabing Yin; Professor Daniel Walker (Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation)

Description

Widespread bacterial resistance to antibiotics has become a serious and growing threat to public health. New mechanisms continuously emerge and significantly reduce the utility of today’s antibiotics. In May 2016, bacteria resistance to colistin - the antibiotic of last resort – was found in humans, making the discovery of new antimicrobials increasingly urgent.

Antibiotic resistance often develops from a small group of resistant cells. Early detection of these rare cells is critical for appropriate treatment, but cannot be achieved using standard assays that generate populations response. In this project, we propose a new approach based on novel technologies that identify phenotypic function of a bacterial population at the single-cell level in minutes. We demonstrated that these technologies not only allow fast quantification of bacterial resistance but also enable the discovery of hidden resistance mechanisms. Large numbers of conditions can be evaluated simultaneously on the developed devices.

Here, we aim to utilise their capabilities for rapid diagnosis of antibiotic resistance as well as enabling high throughput screening of potential antibiotic candidates. Initially, we will use known resistant pathogens, but will move to more clinically relevant samples in collaboration with clinicians. The devices and methodologies from this project would be expected to benefit not only clinicians but also researchers in various fields, for example, microbiology, synthetic biology and drug development.

The student will gain a wide range of desirable skills from multidisciplinary training (microbiology, microfluidics and bioinformatics). These include opportunities to gain expertise in state-of-the-art micro- & nano-fabrication skills, image analysis, and other instrumentation skills that are desirable in both the academic and industrial sectors. The project would be suitable for candidates with a background in physics, chemistry or an engineering topic with a strong interest in microbiology.  

Contact: Huabing.Yin@glasgow.ac.uk


Brain Computer Interface for Neurorehabilitation and Neuromodulation in Patients and Healthy People - Dr. A. Vuckovic

Supervisors

Dr Aleksandra Vuckovic

Description

Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technology provides information about brain activity in real time and translates that activity into actions of a computerised system. BCI can be used for communication, to control computer application or environment through brain activity. However BCI can also be used to train brain to work in a certain way (neuromodulation) as a part of a therapy or improvement of cognitive and motor functions in heathy people. BCI based neurorehabilitation is used for restoration of lost motor and sensory functions, caused by spinal cord injury and stroke.

The BCI group offers PhD projects ranging from applications for healthy, fit people to applications designed for patients. Research laboratories are available both at the University and at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, facilitating clinical applications.

Applicants can chose from a list of projects below or can propose their own project in the area of BCI. 

  1. BCI with functional electrical stimulation for restoration of motor function
  2. Patient self-managed BCI therapies
  3. Neurofeedback therapies for neuropathic pain
  4. Neurofeedback therapies for improved concentration and memory
  5. “Neurodoping” of healthy people  for improvement of motor or cognitive functions
  6. BCI games for single and multiple users (healthy people or patients)
  7. Machine learning strategies for BCI and quantitative EEG analysis
  8. Quantitative EEG for early detection of neuropathic pain
  9. BCI and neuromarketing

Engineering or computing background is desirable though candidates with other background may also apply to discuss topic which would suit best their skills and aspirations.

‌Contact: Aleksandra.vuckovic@glasgow.ac.uk


Innovative Rheology (i-Rheo) for material characterization and diagnostics - Dr. M. Tassieri

Supervisors

Dr. Manlio Tassieri; Professor Jon Cooper

Description

The aim of this PhD project is twofold: (i) to develop a new set of rheological methods and devices for measuring the viscoelastic properties of liquids by using only a few tens of micro-litres sample volume; (ii) to explore their application as new diagnostic and/or Point-of-Care devices. The new devices will be designed to be low-cost and mobile. They will act as catalysts for both multidisciplinary studies and instrument manufacturing (e.g. Point-of-Care devices).

Over the past century, the linear viscoelastic (LVE) properties of materials have been successfully correlated to their topological structure; from macroscopic length scales (e.g., of the whole sample) at relatively low frequencies, down to atomic length scales for frequencies of the order of terahertz. However, because of (i) the high sample volume (>ml) required by (ii) the classical cumbersome instrumentation, rheological techniques have rarely been fully exploited as either diagnostic methods or Point-of-Care devices.

Hence, the appealing features of the new set of rheological techniques: i.e., (i) the use of only a few tens of micro-litres of sample volume, this being a strong constraint in many biological and biophysical studies; and (ii) their mobile/low-cost nature that will broaden the impact of the novel methods, which will be designed to be user-friendly, too. For example, they will be self-calibrating and they will not require the use of additional equipment to generate fluid flow and data analysis. These features will make the new devices ready to be tested for Point-of-Care applications (e.g., anticoagulant monitoring and different blood diseases).

The project will be supervised by Dr Manlio Tassieri (Manlio.Tassieri@glasgow.ac.uk) in collaboration with Professor Jonathan M. Cooper within the Division of Biomedical Engineering. Both the supervisors have extensive experience and understanding of both rheology and microfluidics methodologies, respectively. The student will thus have the opportunity to build up an interesting curriculum, experiencing a multidisciplinary project (supported by experienced scientists working at The University of Glasgow) and from the high quality of the equipment infrastructure, already existing within the Division of Biomedical Engineering. 

Contact: Manlio.Tassieri@glasgow.ac.uk


Bioactive Biodegradable Composites for 3D Printing - Prof. KE Tanner

Supervisors

Professor Liz Tanner; Professor Nikolaj Gadegaard

Description

Three dimensional (3D) printing is a powerful tool for the manufacture of tailor made implants, including biomedical devices and implants, with accelerating worldwide application. However, the currently available 3D feedstock materials are plain (that is non-reinforced) polymers, while they are biocompatible and degradable, so acceptable in biomedical applications, have low mechanical properties and are not bioactive, so sub-optimal for loading bearing bony applications. The aim of this project is to develop composite feedstock materials using degradable polymers reinforced with either hydroxyapatite and/or tricalcium phosphate. These calcium phosphates are related to bone mineral and thus are biological active, are either degradable or non-degradable in vivo and can adsorb proteins. The composite feedstock would allow the 3D printing of load bearing bioactive scaffolds or devices.

Optimisation of the manufacturing process will based on the size, shape and relative amounts of the reinforcing phase with the aim of increasing both the stiffness and strength of the manufactured 3D implants and to provide the required degradation rate for specific applications. The aim is to produce a material that is bioactive and capable of significant load bearing.

The PhD student will be exposed to materials characterisation processes, composite production techniques, in vitro bioactive testing and mechanical testing under physiological conditions. The materials characterisation will cover both the pre-cursor materials and the composites, before and after degradation studies. The materials characterisation techniques will include optical and scanning electron microscopy, Fourier transform infra red spectroscopy (FTIR), TGA etc. Thus the student will be exposed to a large range of techniques as well as being part of a multi disciplinary group. The produced material will feed into cell culture studies thus providing further opportunities for exposure to additional characterisation methods. 

Contact: Elizabeth.Tanner@glasgow.ac.uk


Bioengineering the blood-brain barrier - Prof. M. Salmeron-Sanchez

Supervisors

Professor Manuel Salemeron-Sanchez; Professor Matthew Dalby (Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology); Dr. Tom van Agtmael (Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences)

Description

Blood-brain-barrier (BBB) dysfunction is associated with key neurodegenerative diseases affecting our aging population, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The BBB consists of specialised endothelial cells (ECs) that are separated by a thin basal lamina from a layer of associated pericytes and astrocytes. Astrocyte secrete cytokines and growth factors that increase the tightness of the endothelial layer.

This project will engineer a novel, simple yet robust in vitro model of the BBB that reproduces the main features of the physiological unit by substituting astrocytes/pericytes by a bioengineered membrane that presents growth factors very efficiently. This would facilitate screening for novel BBB treatments by pharma as well as the investigation of disease mechanisms.

The project is highly multidisciplinary and involves 3D printing, surface functionalisation with proteins and cell biology at the interface with materials.

Contact: Manuel.Salmeron-Sanchez@glasgow.ac.uk


Controlling artificial cells using Synthetic Biology and acoustics, for Biomedicine - Dr. J. Reboud

Supervisors

Dr Julien Reboud; Professor Jon Cooper

Description

Synthetic biology is a cross-disciplinary field using engineering and biological principles to design and construct new biological pathways and systems that do not exist in nature. It offers the promise of new drugs with targeted therapies, ‘green’ fuels and new methods for environmental remediation. Systems are generally created by assembling “constructs” or components within living cells (e.g. bacteria) that require an external control to trigger their functionality. Traditionally, this has relied on small biochemical molecules - greatly limiting both the range and implementation of the systems developed.

We are interested in developing two complementary innovations to overcome these limitations. The first one is based on the use of artificial cells (also called protocells). They are hybrid membrane constructs (using both lipids and polymers) that encapsulate cell-free expression systems to perform crucial functions where living cells would fail. For example they avoid the constraints of toxicity, growth, and escape mechanisms inherent in their living counterparts. These will also comprise membrane proteins and actuators to enable communication with the environment and energy harvesting. Using our expertise in microfluidics, we have already demonstrated components of these systems and we aim to integrate them into platforms to rapidly develop new constructs and test for their efficiency, thus rapidly leading to application.

The second innovation lies with using external forces, such as those propagated by light and sound, to control the implementation of synbio constructs within both living cells and artificial cells. This will also use cell-free expression systems, actuated by physically-responsive membrane systems, that respond to mechanical actuation (such as pores for example). Another potential strand of application for the platform could lead to the control of living systems using acoustics, for example through the control of gene expression with ultrasound, in a similar way as light can be used in optogenetics. This new technology will be based on low-cost, battery-powered devices, to enable decentralised utilisation, in developing countries.

The work is highly cross-disciplinary and we would welcome motivated microbiologists, engineers, or physical scientists. The student will develop expertise in microfabrication and acoustics to develop a platform to handle SynBio parts (DNA, expression kits, enzymes). The student will also benefit from being trained in SynBio, with our collaborators in the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, using parts to assemble and optimise new protein and gene networks for the production of new biomedicine (such as antimalarial drugs), as well as new systems for Water Remediation.

Contact: Julien.Reboud@glasgow.ac.uk


Development of verified realtime machine learning algorithms for medical devices - Dr. B. Porr

Supervisors

Dr. Bernd Porr; Dr. Alice Miller (Computing Science)

Description

Patients with impaired limb control, for example as a result of a stroke, can benefit from devices attached to the limb which stimulate impaired muscles and/or adding external force with the help of motors. 

Paralysis in one arm can be compensated for by using a cuff which stimulates muscles using a process known as Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES). In order to generate the correct stimuli, one needs to analyse sensor data from the patient.

To be flexible we will use machine learning and finite state machines which adapt to the needs of the patient. The development of models is required that can capture the unpredictability of the environment and respond to changing conditions.

However machine learning can go wrong. Its lack of formal proof and guarantees of safety and reliability limit its use within a medical context.

A promising approach to solve this problem is to use Formal Verification, which can allow us to prove hardware or software systems to be correct with respect to formally defined requirements. One of the possible formal verification approaches used would be a model-based software verification technique called Model Checking to guarantee the behaviour of models developed with the help of Machine Learning methods.

Machine learning has enjoyed a recent renaissance and provides very promising results. However, it is not perfect. For example minor adjustments to parameters can lead to widely differing results which are not explainable. Thus, it is timely to look beyond machine learning and make it truly robust in real world applications. 

Contact: Bernd.Porr@glasgow.ac.uk


Engineering new microsystems to improve medical diagnostics by purifying microbes from blood - Dr. M. Jimenez

Supervisors

Dr. Melanie Jimenez; Professor Thomas Franke

Description

The latest estimates predict that by 2050 antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could claim one life every three seconds, higher than the current death rates for cancer (http://amr-review.org). A major limitation is in the lack of fast and reliable diagnostic technologies. For example, current methods to identify an infection in blood are based on bacteria culture and require several days to establish a positive result. During this interim period, potentially ineffective broad-spectrum antibiotics are often administered that may lead to the emergence of resistant bacteria.

The goal of this project is to develop new microsystems capable of tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by quickly and automatically concentrating microbes in body fluids (e.g. in blood) without any labels (e.g. specific antibodies). The aim is to dramatically reduce the time it takes for identifying infections and delivering the most appropriate treatment to infected patients.

A wide range of microbes can be infectious. The diversity of microbes (from viruses to bacteria and fungi) makes their separation from complex fluids and tissues (such as blood or urine) challenging. The presence of high concentrations of other (non-pathogenic) cells (e.g. red blood cells in blood) also hinders the development of medical diagnostic devices for AMR. Despite the high performance of many biosensors to detect specific biomarkers or microbes in model samples (i.e. buffers), the challenge of real clinical samples has limited their practical use. In this project, the candidate will tackle that challenge by developing and interfacing innovative microsystems to isolate microbes within minutes.

The main objectives of this project include:

  1. The development of new understanding of microfluidic-based techniques (e.g. inertial focusing) to separate particles (e.g. blood cells and microbes) based on their mechanical properties (size, shape, deformability) at high throughput and for large sample volumes (e.g. >5mL for blood tests typically).
  2. The evaluation of a new class of smart receptors to further purify harmful pathogens for detection
  3. The coupling and automation of the developed approaches (objectives 1 and 2) to provide health professionals with a unique tool to better diagnose infections in patients and determine the most appropriate treatment.  

Contact: Melanie.Jimenez@glasgow.ac.uk


Emotion Extraction from Speech and the Creation of Emotional and Contextual Subtitles for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People - Dr. M. Hersh

Supervisors

Dr Marion Hersh

Description

The overall aim of the project is to develop a system for automatically extracting emotional and other contextual features from speech and using them to enhance subtitling systems for deaf people. The term deaf people will be used here to include anyone with a hearing impairment that affects their understanding and enjoyment of audio(visual) material.  

Subtitles or captions involve the transcription of the audio content of audiovisual media (television programmes, DVD, CDROM, videos or films), which is displayed in real-time as text on the lower third of the screen. In the UK over 7.5 million people regularly use subtitles, 6 million of whom are deaf. These systems are also valuable to viewers of foreign language material.     

There is research evidence, include from work carried out by the project supervisor, that deaf people are interested in information about the emotional and other contextual features of speech.  Thus the project is motivated by the need to irmpove the enjoyment and understanding of deaf people of audiovisual media, including television and educational media.  The emotion extraction system is likely to also be useful to autistic and some other groups of disabled people in increasing their understanding of social and other situations.  Limited progress has been made on algorithms for extracting emotions and contextual features from speech and emotional and contextual subtitles, but there are no systems which combine the two, making the project highly innovative.        

The project work will include the following components.

  1. Fundamental research on the extraction of emotions from speech, including evaluation of existing research and identification of the emotional and contextual features most important to deaf people.   
  2. Fundamental research on visual representations of the emotional content and context, loudness and pace of speech.
  3. Applied research on developing alogorithms for extracting emotions and other contextual features from speech and evaluting the results, including through end-user testing.
  4. Applied research on developing a customisable subtitling system which interfaces with the feature extraction algorithm to convey the emotional and contextual features of audiovisual material in subtitles which meet the needs of all subtitle users.
  5. The development of standards for subtitling systems.
  6. Investigation of educational applications of the new subtitling system.

End-user involvement and testing will ensure that the outcomes meet the needs of deaf people.  This will draw on the supervisor’s contacts with organisations including the Scottish Council on Deafness, Deafax and the Royal National Organisation of Deaf People.

Contact: Marion.Hersh@glasgow.ac.uk


Superresolution microscopy to study cell adhesion in response to nanostructures - Prof. N Gadegaard

Supervisor

 Prof Nikolaj Gadegaard; Professor Gwyn Gould (Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology)

Description

As cells adhere to surfaces, they form focal adhesions which link the cells mechanically to their surroundings but also provide important signalling too. With the invention of superresolution microscopy it has become possible to study the proteins involved in these adhesions at a single molecule level. The improvement in detail is typically 10 times with a resolution of about 20 nm. At the same time semiconductor technologies have made it possible to control patterns with a precision similar or small to the size of the proteins. This opens up the possibilities to potentially directly manipulate the adhesions at a molecular level.

This project will use advanced microscopy and genetically engineered cells to investigate the adhesion formation on a range of nanopatterned surfaces.

Together with collaborators at Yale and Oslo University, the project will access the ability to use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells which can be directed to different cell types to test for lineage dependency. External partners also have technologies to genetically manipulate the cells to either express reporters or artificially engineering adhesion molecules. Combining the single molecule microscopy with genetically engineered cell, the aim will be to understand the molecular mechanisms responsible in the determination of cell fate and function. This knowledge can ultimately be applied to regenerative medicine or cell-based platforms for drug testing.

Contact: Nikolaj.Gadegaard@glasgow.ac.uk


Biological inspired control and machine learning for clinical rehabilitation and engineering systems - Dr. H. Gollee

Supervisor

Dr Henrik Gollee

Description

Explaining how humans control movement and posture has been of interest to scientists and engineers for a long time, with controversy remaining about the exact nature of human motor control, and how this is related to their ability to adapt and to learn. One approach which has been developed in recent years, is based on a combination of open-loop predictive control and intermittent closed loop control, termed intermittent predictive control (see http://www.icmm.org.uk for more details).

The aim of this interdisciplinary research is to further explore the potential of intermittent predictive control as a new paradigm for engineering and physiological control, specifically in the context of neurological rehabilitation and learning. The project aims to develop novel control models which combine intermittent control with machine learning approaches to achieve the ability to learn and adapt to new and changing environments. The insights into human control gained from such models will be applied in rehabilitation approaches, based on neuro-prostheses. Our long standing clinical research link with the Scottish National Spinal Injuries Unit provides a basis for experimental evaluation of these concepts in a clinical setting.

The successful applicant should have a background in biomedical engineering and / or control engineering, and an interest in interdisciplinary research involving control engineering and human physiology.

Contact: Henrik.Gollee@glasgow.ac.uk

 


Microfluidics-generated microcarriers for therapeutic protein delivery - Dr. C. Gonzalez-Garcia

Supervisors

Dr Cristina Gonzalez-GarciaProfessor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez

Description

Controlled delivery of therapeutic agents, such as proteins, is a highly promising strategy to treat pathological conditions, including myocardial infarcts, bone defects, and skin lesions, as well as inflammatory, metabolic and neurological disorders. Biomaterials are often used as carriers to increase the retention of these biological molecules at the treatment site for a sufficient period to allow cells to migrate to the area of injury and to proliferate and differentiate. However, a major roadblock to effective protein therapeutics is the lack of biocompatible and injectable carriers that deliver proteins with high bioactivity and suitable release rates.

Hydrogels, highly hydrated cross-linked polymer networks, have been studied as promising protein carriers due to their high water content, soft consistency, high porosity and biocompatibility. In this project, an innovative microfluidics-based polymerization system will be used to synthesize biocompatible synthetic and natural microgels that can be loaded with a desired protein. The release rate of the encapsulated proteins will be controlled by the size of the particles and hydrogel network density, and the protease-dependent cleavage of hydrogel crosslinks in the case of degradable hydrogels; thus, this provides a tuneable set of parameters for controlling release kinetics. Moreover, the microfluidics technique has the potential to significantly improve current methods to control the delivery of biological molecules due to the advantage of producing homogenous population of microgels in an efficient way.

This system will be initially used for bone applications, through the controlled delivery of growth factors which induce the bone formation. However, the system may be optimized for its translation to other applications such as osteoarthritis, myocardial infarct, or tissue regeneration.

Contact: Cristina.GonzalezGarcia@glasgow.ac.uk

 


Cellular mechanics of cell differentiation and tissue growth (Mechano-tissue Engineering) - Prof. T Franke

Supervisors

Professor Thomas FrankeProfessor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez; Professor Matthew Dalby (Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology)

Description

Mechano-biology has emerged as an important field in cell and tissue mechanics. It is a key factor in a wide range of biological processes including cell mobility, cell division and cancer. In tissue engineering, the key role of mechanics of the extracellular matrix (ECM) for cell fate has been recognized and viscoelastic properties of the ECM trigger stem cell differentiation into various linages. Naïve MSCs, for example, differentiate into osteoblasts when cultured on stiff matrices, while on intermediate matrices into myoblasts and on very soft matrices into neural-type cells. Cells growing in a tissue respond and differentiate depending on the microenvironment they experience. On the other hand, MSCs are known to display certain surface markers that are used to define their phenotype.

The goal of this project is to study and exploit the impact of cellular mechanics on cell differentiation and tissue growth. In a bottom-up approach we will use mechanically characterized and preselected mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and observe their behavior on synthetic 2D and 3D microenvironments with well-defined extracellular matrix (ECM). Here we want to investigate to what extend this mechanical pre-defined state of MSCs determine their lineage regardless of the mechanical properties of the ECM on which these cells are grown. In other words, whether cell mechanics is already a determinant for cell commitment.

We will employ a combination of contact and label-free techniques that allow for mechanical sampling and isolation of cells at a rate of several hundreds to thousands per second. We will employ microfluidic techniques and probe cells with low invasive hydrodynamic forces exerted by the external flow field. More precisely, we follow two complement strategies.

  1. Sorting in bulk by hydrodynamic (lift forces), deterministic lateral displacement (DLD) and acoustic filtering to isolate cells
  2. Determine single cellular mechanics using AFM and micropipette aspiration (MP)

We will investigate these mechanically selected cells on hydrogel environments to determine how MSCs with differing stiffness signatures interact and with soft, stiff and rigid ECM mimics.

Contact: Thomas.Franke@glasgow.ac.uk


Low-cost low-power medical diagnostic technologies for low-resource settings - Prof. J. Cooper

Supervisor

Professor Jonathan Cooper; Dr. Julien Reboud;

Description

Background: Creating Lab-on-a-Chip and biosensing devices for low-resource settings is an exciting new area of science. The subject involves the use of advanced manufacturing technologies to produce accurate, sensitive and robust devices to assess levels of infectious diseases in poor rural populations. The devices have a series of additional demands, requiring that they are easy to use, readily disposable and have minimal or no power requirements.

We have two particular interests, in creating ‘sentinel devices’ that are able to monitor multiple diseases in a specific area in a multiplexed format and in informing personalised treatment by analysing drug resistance, which is becoming a crucial burden on the global scale.

Project: We have developed two main technologies to overcome current limitations in ease of use and costs. One is linked to acoustics, via the use of surface acoustic waves to drive microfluidic manipulation of reagents on a disposable surface. With the help of advanced metamaterials and a mobile phone platform, we aim to integrate all complex manipulations involved in DNA-based assays onto a single device. We have already demonstrated this capability in detecting Malaria, for which the analytical challenge lies in having the capability of measuring a single parasite-infected cell in a drop of blood, which might itself contain more than one million non-infected blood cells (by analogy, looking for a needle in a haystack). We work closely with parasitologists and epidemiologists who have field experience, working in rural Africa.

The second technology is based on paper. Paper is a cheap platform to develop advanced detection tools, which can be disposed by burning after use, making it ideal for low and high-resource scenarios. We have developed a platform based on the folding of paper matrices, akin to ‘origami’, to integrate molecular biology processing steps (DNA extraction, amplification, detection) into a single low-cost device. This platform was validated on clinical samples for the detection of Malaria in Uganda, including speciation, an important factor for drug resistance

Candidate: The work is cross-disciplinary and we are equally interested in motivated microbiologists, engineers, parasitologists or physical scientists. The student, regardless of background, will learn advanced manufacturing methods and will train in analytical sciences. There will be many opportunities to interact with our collaborators working in parasitology.

Contact: Jon.Cooper@glasgow.ac.uk

 


Bio-inspired Photosynthetic Materials for Solar Energy Harvesting - Dr. A. Clark

Supervisor‌

Dr. Alasdair Clark

Description

The demand for sustainable, renewable sources of energy in the 21st century is one of the most important societal and scientific challenges faced by humanity. Of the various renewable energy sources available, solar energy is by far the largest and is one which is most effectively utilised in nature via the processes of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic organisms capture solar energy using arrays of Light Harvesting (LH) proteins assembled within cell membranes. These organisms - particularly those that reside in light-challenged environments - are faced with a formidable energy problem: How to capture sufficient energy to drive their cellular metabolism? This energy conundrum is elegantly addressed by stacking two-dimensional arrays of LH proteins within multiple thylakoid membranes housed in chloroplasts. An exquisite example of self-assembly, the 3D protein ordering found in these photosynthetic organisms therefore provides the fundamental design principles to develop artificial photosynthetic materials.

This research programme seeks to design and construct a new generation of DNA-programmed light-harvesting assemblies for the future applications in energy harvesting surfaces and advanced photovoltaic devices that fuse biomolecular, electrical and material components. To do so we will use DNA-Origami to direct the placement of light harvesting proteins with nano-scale precision onto engineered surfaces. This bio-inspired platform methodology merges the principles of "bottom up" DNA nanotechnology with "top down" nanolithography and will provide the means to control, for the first time, the location of each photosynthetic protein module, inter-module distance and their relative orientation in both 2D and 3D along surfaces. This new design lexicon will provide a framework to correlate how these parameters influence overall light harvesting efficiency for the production of a new class of bio-enabled solar energy harvesting surfaces and materials. 

The student will work within an established research team to investigate all aspects of the system, from design of the DNA-origami, to the capture of the proteins, to the subsequent construction of novel light-harvesting materials. This multidisciplinary project represents an excellent opportunity for a student with a background in either bio-engineering, physics, chemistry or biology to work at the forefront of nanotechnology research.

Contact: Alasdair.Clark@glasgow.ac.uk