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Developing Pre-Clinical Models to Optimise Nanoparticle Based Drug Delivery for the Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy

   Faculty of Health and Life Science

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  Dr J Curran, Prof EA Patterson, Dr VR Kearns  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This Doctoral Training Network in technologies for Healthy Ageing aims to train the next generation of physical scientists and engineers to develop novel technologies and devices to address the real challenges faced by older people and our clinical colleagues who work with them. It is structured around 3 healthy ageing challenges; prolonging independence, maintaining wellness and accelerating recovery, generated to respond to the national healthy ageing agenda. All students will undertake a specific training programme in conjunction with their research project and have the support of a cohort structure, further details can be found at

The project: Diabetic retinopathy is a sight-threatening, age-related condition that is currently managed by delivery of drugs directly to the inside of the eye. Although some drug-releasing implants are available, standard treatment involves frequent injection of drugs into the vitreous of the eye. This strategy can lead to ineffective delivery and variable patient outcomes, as patients have frequent visits to clinic. Therefore new regimes for drug delivery are required alongside enhanced methods for testing and optimising the delivery of the drugs in pre-clinical screening systems.

Advances in nanomedicine, new drug therapies and pharmacokinetics hold potential for increased efficiency of drug delivery and effective management of the treatment. For this to be successful models are required which characterise the diffusion of nanoparticle (NP) delivery vehicles to the cell layer. To derive accurate concentration-response relationships, it is important to determine the local concentration of NPs which actually arrive at a cellular interface rather than the nominal concentration of NPs that are introduced to the system.

This proposal will develop real-time non-invasive label-free tracking technologies. The system will be used to characterise and quantify NP motion through biological solutions/ vitreous fluid and direct interactions with retinal epithelial cells using light microscopy, providing accurate measurements of NP/drug delivery to a site of action. The platform technologies and data associated with this proposal will directly contribute to the production of novel drug delivery mechanisms and pre-clinical screening models that can be used to quantify the efficiency of new drug therapies based upon NP diffusion and delivery to the treatment of diabetic retinopathy.

The supervisory Team: The project will be supervised by Dr Jude Curran and Professor Eann Patterson (School of Engineering) who have developed the NP tracking technology (in collaboration with Professor Maurice Whelan) and applied it to biological environments, and Dr Victoria Kearns (Department of Eye and Vision Sciences) who has an established track record in ocular bioengineering and drug delivery. The project will further benefit from direct input from Professor Whelan, the Head of and the JRC’s European Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing, in Ispra,Italy. 

The Environment: This PhD project is a truly multi-disciplinary project that brings together the latest advances in tracking and characterising nanoparticle diffusion using “caustics” technology in an optical microscope. The project will further exploit this technology to develop models for characterizing NP/cell interactions in real time. The project will be carried out in bespoke laboratories in The School of Engineering and The Department of Eye and Vision Science, Institute of Life Course and Medical Sciences.

Training: Full training and technical support will be provided in all aspects of NP tracking and diffusion characteristics, in vitro cell culture and aseptic techniques and analysis of cellular responses.

The project will deliver high impact multidisciplinary data with commercial, legislative and clinical relevance. The student will work with experts in a number of complementary fields and engage with the leading European institution in nanotoxicology and the derivation of animal free testing which has a lead role in regulation of novel medicines and legislation associated with nontoxicity testing, enhancing the project and their skills.

Candidates should have a minimum of 2:1 BSc/BEng (or expected). The project would suit applicants with a degree in Biomedical Science, Biomedical or Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry or similar, with an interest in imaging and diffusion. The project has a high degree of practical based activity, therefore applicants should be comfortable working in multi-disciplinary labs and have the ability to work both independently and as part of a team. Effective time management, strong communication, innovative problem solving and enthusiasm are also essential key skills.

Due to a recent change in UKRI policy, this is now available for Home, EU or international students to apply. However, please be aware there is a limit on the number of international students we can appoint to these studentships per year.

Enquiries to: Dr Jude Curran on [Email Address Removed]

To apply:  please send your CV and a covering letter to [Email Address Removed] please put Technologies for Healthy Ageing in the subject line

Expected interviews in April 2021

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the EPSRC DTP scheme and is offered for 3.5years in total. It provides full tuition fees and a stipend of approx. £15,609 tax free per year for living costs. The stipend costs quoted are for students starting from 1st October 2021 and will rise slightly each year with inflation.
The funding for this studentship also comes with a budget for research and training expenses of £1000 per year, and for those that are eligible, a disabled students allowance to cover the costs of any additional support that is required.


1.   Giorgi, F., Coglitore, D., Curran, J.M., Gilliland, D., Macko, P., Whelan, M.P., Worth, A. & Patterson, E.A., The influence of inter-particle forces on diffusion at the nanoscale, Scientific Reports, 9:12689, 2019.
2.   Coglitore, D., Edwardson, S.P., Macko, P., Patterson, E.A., & Whelan, M.P., Transition from fractional to classical Stokes-Einstein behaviour in simple fluids, Royal Society Open Science, 4:170507, 2017.
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