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Development of electrospun fibre membranes to support pluripotent stem cell differentiation and delivery of trabecular meshwork cells

Project Description

Glaucoma, the "silent thief of sight", is a leading cause of sight loss both globally and in the UK, where a near 330,000 people will be diagnosed by 2020. Glaucoma results in an increase in intra-ocular pressure and irreversible retinal damage causing blindness. This occurs when the aqueous humour, which bathes anterior tissues of the eye providing essential nutrients, is no longer able to drain into the vascular system. Drainage is maintained by the trabecular meshwork, a biological sieve, which is susceptible to ageing and disease. Progressive cell loss causes its sieve-like architecture to breakdown, which restricts fluid flow and leads to a rise in intra-ocular pressure.
This innovative and exciting studentship will focus on developing a new therapeutic using electrospun fibre scaffolds to deliver viable cells capable of repopulating and regenerating the trabecular meshwork to restore fluid outflow. We have previously shown adult stem cells have the potential to restore this outflow pathway and similarly, electrospun fibre membranes demonstrate close mimicry of trabecular meshwork architecture.

This studentship has several key aims:
1) To design, create and characterise biomimetic scaffolds using electrospinning technologies and characterise material properties (3D imaging, pore size, percentage porosity, fibre properties).

2) To evaluate in vitro cell/scaffold response using established in-house protocols to isolate and expand adult progenitor/stem cells from human trabecular meshwork. Cellular responses to identified scaffolds will be assessed in terms of their viability, morphology, differentiation, apoptosis, proliferation and migration.

3) To assess scaffold function in in vitro and ex vivo models to evaluate the implant potential of scaffolds and their biological responses.
You will receive training in electrospinning, imaging techniques, eye dissection, cell isolation, tissue culture, histology, qPCR, western blotting, Immunohistochemistry and in vitro and ex vivo cell assays. You will also gain key, transferable skills in data analysis, scientific writing and presentations. You will also be encouraged to attend relevant conferences and apply for conference bursaries and awards, as well as taking part in public engagement activities. All postgraduate research students (PGRs) undertake formal, personalised training at the University of Liverpool, coordinated by the Liverpool Doctoral College. This creates a learning environment that allows all PGRs to enhance their skills for a successful research experience and career.

You will join the Department of Eye and Vision Science, which is a major research department within the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease at the University of Liverpool with very close partnership with St Paul’s Eye Unit in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. It is housed in the newly commissioned William Henry Duncan Building, sited in Liverpool’s Knowledge quarter opposite the new Royal University Hospital. This £40M purpose-built facility houses a range of modern interdisciplinary laboratories allowing researchers to work in a collaborative manner. The Institute also houses a number of specialist laboratories, including state-of-the-art facilities for live cell microscopy, electrophysiology and materials chemistry as well as shared Institute facilities for tissue culture and histology.

The Department of Eye and Vision Science is one of the key centres in the UK for medical research into vision threatening diseases and its reputation in eye research is world-renowned. The research is highly translational and multidisciplinary with active research groups in ocular cell culture, stem cell biology, cell transplantation, biomaterials science, bioengineering, image analysis, molecular biology, visuomotor control, clinical trials and health service research. Ophthalmic bioengineering is a key strategic area of research in the Department and The University of Liverpool has invested in it both within the Department and in the School of Engineering, which is a collaborative partner in this studentship.

The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is fully committed to promoting gender equality in all activities. In recruitment we emphasise the supportive nature of the working environment and the flexible family support that the University provides. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

This studentship is available to start in October 2019.

To apply, email your CV with a covering letter to with a copy to

Funding Notes

This is a 3-year PhD project funded by the Samuel Crossley Barnes Bequest, and the successful applicant will receive a stipend of £15,009 p.a. and fees will be paid at the UK/EU rate.

You should have (or expect to achieve) a First or Upper Second class Honours in Biomaterials, Biological Sciences, or another relevant discipline. A Master’s degree or laboratory-based research experience in a relevant area (biomaterials, stem cell biology, cell culture) would be an advantage.


Yu WY, et al. Bovine posterior limbus: an evaluation of an alternative source for corneal endothelial and trabecular meshwork stem/progenitor cells. Stem Cells & Development, 24:624-639, 2015.

Johnson DH, et al. Human trabecular meshwork organ culture. A new method. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, 28(6):945-953, 1987.

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