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A new biomaterial-based approach to promote spinal cord repair

Project Description

Medical Research Scotland: PhD Studentship Award

This project is one of 9 four-year PhD Studentships funded by Medical Research Scotland ( to be delivered jointly by the named University and Company. The Studentship will provide the first-class academic and commercial training needed to equip the successful candidate for a science career in an increasingly competitive market.

"A new approach to promote axonal regrowth after spinal cord injury by combining self-assembling Fmoc-based hydrogels with Epac2 activation" to be delivered by the University of Aberdeen [Supervisors: Dr Wenlong Huang and Dr Derryck Shewan (both Institutre of Medical Sciences)] and Biogelx Limited ( [Company supervisor: Dr Laura Goldie].

Spinal injury affects 50,000 people in the UK, with roughly 1,000 new cases annually, and causes permanent and incurable functional impairment below the injury site. Due to the complex nature of spinal injury, which includes a physical and molecular barrier to nerve regeneration, no single therapy has ever been successful, so a combined approach is much more likely to be effective. Our pilot research, using tissue culture experiments, demonstrates: 1) a novel, nerve growth-supporting, injectable hydrogel is suitable for spinal repair as a physical scaffold; 2) nerve growth is increased by adding a drug that activates a growth-promoting protein called Epac2 in nerve cells; and 3) drug-induced Epac2 activation prevents potent inhibition by molecules in the injury site, further encouraging nerve growth.

The proposed project aims to develop a novel combinatorial strategy by using the hydrogel as a depot from which the Epac2 activating drug can be released into the local injury site to promote spinal nerve regrowth. The project will exploit state-of-the-art live cell imaging, alongside genetic, neurochemical, and behavioural tools in clinically relevant mammalian spinal injury models. Furthermore, by providing a path towards an effective and easily administered treatment, it will have an impact on clinical neuro-regenerative strategies.


Enquiries should be sent by email to Dr Wenlong Huang:


Candidates must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a First Class Honours undergraduate degree or a 2.1 Honours undergraduate degree plus a Masters with Commendation or Distinction, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK.

Please select ’Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Translational Neuroscience’ from the list of programme options in the University of Aberdeen postgraduate applicant portal (, then enter the name of the funder (Medical Research Scotland), name of supervisor(s) and project title in the space provided. A research proposal is not required when applying for an advertised PhD studentship.

When submitting your online application, please also provide a CV, the contact details of 2 academic references (including email addresses) and a covering letter, explaining why you wish to carry out this project.

Please note, your application may be shared with the funders of this PhD Studentship, Medical Research Scotland and Biogelx Limited.

Interviews are expected to take place approximately 1 month after the closing date for applications.

It is anticipated that the PhD Studentship will start in October 2019.

Funding Notes

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.


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