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Bionanotechnology-enabled monitoring of disease progression during cancer treatment

  • Full or part time

    Dr Binzhi Qian
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, October 31, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

An exciting opportunity has arisen for a talented and motivated student to undertake a fully-funded* four-year PhD in Bioengineering at the University of Edinburgh, in partnership with biopharmaceutical company Celgene. The successful candidate will develop a new device that could potentially improve cancer treatment by enhancing the monitoring of disease progression during therapy. The project involves using bionanotechnology to engineer molecular devices and biomaterials to detect/monitor the presence of disease markers in a biological sample.

Project outline:
Effectiveness of cancer treatment varies from patient to patient, and also depends on type of cancer and drug. When patients undergo chemotherapy, sometimes their tumours do not respond, and a different treatment must be tried. Data about disease progression during treatment is therefore critical to inform decisions about drug regimes.

Using blood samples (‘liquid biopsies’) would enable regular monitoring of the tumour’s response to treatment. One cancer marker in liquid biopsies is DNA that has been ejected from the tumour into the bloodstream, but at present there is no approved device for monitoring such circulating tumour (ct) DNA in liquid biopsies. In this project, engineering and life sciences will be brought together to design, build and test a new device for quantifying ctDNA, using self-assembled synthetic DNA structures as an integral part of the operating mechanism.

The PhD will be primarily experimental, in the area of bionanotechnology and bio/nano-engineering. The outcome of the project is expected to be proof-of-concept of our new healthcare technology in a laboratory environment. Further validation studies will follow. Ultimately, the technology could have a considerable impact on cancer treatment, helping clinicians to identify promptly when drugs are failing.

The project partner is Celgene, a biopharmaceutical company that produces a range of cancer drugs including Revlimid® and Abraxane®. The PhD is co-funded by Celgene and the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering (SRPe). The funding covers fees (UK/EU rate), stipend, consumables and some travel.

Supervision arrangements:
The PhD will be hosted by the University of Edinburgh, with academic supervisors from Engineering (Dr Katherine Dunn – primary supervisor) and Medicine (Dr Bin-Zhi Qian – second academic supervisor). The industrial supervisors (Dr Cristina Costa Santini & Dr Ines Gonzalez Garcia) are based at Celgene’s R&D site in Seville and they will be actively involved in the project. We also plan links with researchers at Strathclyde and potentially Glasgow.

Training offered:
Depending on the previous experience of the student, training will be available in engineering and/or life sciences, experimental practice, industry and innovation, research skills and transferable skills.

Application procedure:
Pre-application queries may be directed to Katherine Dunn by email at .

If you wish to make a formal application for this vacancy you must apply online using the university’s electronic system AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Once you have submitted your application, email Katherine Dunn at stating that you have done so.

Applications will be assessed as soon as they are received, and interviews will be held on a rolling basis (via phone/Skype if necessary). The vacancy will be closed as soon as the right candidate is found.

Additional guidance about the application form:
The application form requests a personal statement and a research proposal. In the personal statement you should explain why you want to do this particular PhD project. For this PhD, instead of submitting a ‘research proposal’ you should supply your CV.

31st October 2019, or until position filled. You are recommended to apply as soon as possible.

Please visit here:

Funding Notes

Funding (tuition fees and stipend) is available for UK students and EU students.

The stipend for the 2019/20 academic year will be £15,009, with inflation built in for the following years.

Overseas students are not eligible for funding.

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in General Engineering?
(joint submission with Heriot-Watt University)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 91.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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