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A novel silk biomaterial-based combinational approach to enhance axonal regrowth after spinal cord injury

Project Description

Spinal cord injury causes permanent and incurable functional impairment below the injure site. No single therapy has ever been successful, so a combined approach is much more likely to succeed. A potential novel therapy for spinal cord injury is to use a biomaterial scaffold both to bridge the injury site and as a depot to deliver growth-promoting drugs, thereby providing a permissive environment for spinal nerves to regrow. Our pilot studies showed that injectable self-assembling silk hydrogels supported excellent growth of cortical neurons in vitro and could be functionalised with bioactive molecules to further enhance neuron growth. We also showed that application of a physiological relevant electric field promoted directional growth of cortical neurons in vitro. Hence, the proposed project will combine silk hydrogels (as drug delivery depots for novel bioactive molecules) with electric field application as a potential therapy for spinal cord injury. The project shall exploit state-of-the-art silk hydrogel fabrication and functionalisation, biomaterial stiffness and molecule release assessment, primary neuronal cell cultures, ex vivo and in vivo models of spinal cord injury, along with robust neurochemical and complex behavioural tools.

This is an ambitious cross disciplinary PhD project requiring a diverse but complementary supervisory team. Dr Huang has an internationally recognised track record in using novel silk biomaterials for nerve repair. His collaboration with industry has led to the development of a novel Antheraea pernyi silk-based biomaterial for peripheral nerve injury repair (Biomaterials 2012,33:59-71), with its further potential being evaluated for spinal cord repair (Scientific Reports 2017,7:1-10; Neural Regeneration Research 2018,13:809-810). Dr Seib has developed a range of platform technologies (e.g. Nanoscale 2018,13:469-87; ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering 2018,4:942-51; Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology & Medicine 2017,13:2633-42; more in CV section) and has 10 years’ experience working with silk. Prof McCaig is the Regius Professor of Physiology and is a world-renowned expert in using electric field application to promote axonal guidance and growth as well as wound healing. He has published significantly in this field (e.g. Journal of Vascular Research 2019, 56:39-53; Stem Cell Reviews and Reports 2015, 11:75-86. Tissue Engineering - Part B: Reviews 2011, 17:143-153.)

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of MEDICAL SCIENCES. Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sciences, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing.

NOTE CLEARLY THE NAME OF THE SUPERVISOR AND EXACT PROJECT TITLE ON THE APPLICATION FORM. Applicants are limited to applying for a maximum of 3 applications for funded projects. Any further applications received will be automatically withdrawn.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by a University of Aberdeen Elphinstone Scholarship. An Elphinstone Scholarship covers the cost of tuition fees only, whether home, EU or overseas.

For details of fees: View Website

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a First Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.

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