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Biomechanical Modelling of Metastasis Growth in the Spine

   Department of Mechanical Engineering

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  Dr Rebecca Shipley, Prof Simon Walker-Samuel  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


UCL Department / Division

Department of Mechanical Engineering

Location of position


Duration of Studentship

4 Years


£19,062 per annum

Vacancy Information

The Department of Mechanical Engineering is funding a 4-year PhD Studentship in Biomechanical Modelling of Metastasis Growth in the Spine. 

Studentship Description

Metastatic bone disease affects 150,000 patients in the UK per annum and occurs when primary tumour cells from another part of the body spread to the bone. A common site is the spine vertebra, causing a marked deterioration in the patient’s quality of life through bone pain, fracture, and spinal cord injury. Patients may be treated via pain management (analgesics) through to major surgery. The choice to operate has to be carefully considered given that the prognosis for these patients is poor with a life expectancy of less than 18 months. One of the surgery criteria is the risk of the cancer fracturing the spine vertebra, significantly impacting patient quality of life. However, there is a lack of quantitative tools to inform this risk assessment.

To address this, it is essential to understand how tumours grow in the different tissues in and around the spine and impart stress to the vertebra under different loading regimes (for example walking, sitting, standing).

This PhD project is part of a large, EPSRC-funded multidisciplinary programme of work (OncoEng) that will combine imaging, mathematical modelling, mechanical characterisation, computation and clinical data to tackle these challenges, working with the University of Leeds, Imperial College London and multiple hospital and industry partners. The PhD project will bring together in silico modelling with experimental data to predict the impact of tissue mechanics on tumour growth in the spine and how stresses are communicated to the surrounding tissues such as the vertebra. The project will use data from a range of experimental models (e.g. in vitro, in vivo) and characterisation techniques (e.g. imaging) to generate data which will inform model development and parameters. The student will have the opportunity to get involved in experimental data and data acquisition. Working with the broader team, this will enable a parameterised and validated computational framework to predict how these tumours grow in the spine.

The project requires a candidate who is committed to, and excited by, multidisciplinary approaches to tackle medical problems. The studentship will involve evaluating and implementing different in silico models of tumour growth in the spine. Alongside this, the project will also develop in vitro and in vivo models and characterisation methods to generate data on the role of mechanical stresses in determining tumour growth. The project will bring together these computational and experimental components so that the in silico models inform experiments, and the experimental data inform parameters/ relationships in the in silico models. The combined platform will provide insights into the role of mechanical cues in determining how spinal tumours grow and interact with surrounding tissues.

The student will join the research groups of both Rebecca Shipley (computational modelling in medicine and biology; UCL Mechanical Engineering) and Simon Walker-Samuel (biophysics and imaging; UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging), collaborating closely with colleagues in UCL Mathematics (Nick Ovenden).

Person Specification

Applicants should have a strong background in biomedical engineering, including biomechanics and computation. They should be comfortable with programming for example Python, Matlab, C++.

Furthermore, the project fits within a multidisciplinary team (engineers, biologists, mathematicians, surgeons) and the candidate must be comfortable communicating their findings to people with a range of backgrounds.


This funding is for UK/EU nationals; international students may apply, however, fees will be capped at UK/EU level. Please refer to the following website for eligibility criteria: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/research/degrees/mechanical-engineering-mphil-phd

Eligible applicants should first contact Professor Rebecca Shipley ([Email Address Removed]) quoting the job reference. Please enclose a one-page statement outlining suitability for the project and two pages CV (including contact details of two referees). The supervisory team will arrange interviews for short-listed candidates. After interview, the successful candidate will be given instructions to formally apply online via the UCL website. For further information, see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospectivestudents/graduate/research/application

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