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EASTBIO: The biomechanics of cell migration and wound healing in the eye

   School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

  , Dr Silke Henkes  Thursday, December 16, 2021  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Aberdeen United Kingdom Biomedical Engineering Biophysics Cell Biology Genetics Medical Physics Molecular Biology Pathology Pharmacology Pharmacy Zoology

About the Project


Dr Martin Collinson - University of Aberdeen, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition -

Dr Silke Henkes - University of Bristol -


This is a fundamental research project that to understand how the coordinated flocking behaviour of migrating cells emerges from the properties of the individual cell, and what genes control this. During normal homeostasis of epithelia, or after wounding, cells move as a sheet, pulling and pushing each other to maintain the barrier function and fill holes in the tissue. Failure of this process leads can lead to chronic wounds or infection, causing pain and infirmity to individuals and costing health services £millions annually. Failure of healing of the surface of the eye (the cornea) due to disease or genetics is the most prevalent cause of childhood blindness worldwide.

This PhD will study epithelial migration on the surface of the eye, both in normal eyes and eyes affected by a genetic deficiency caused by heterozygosity for the eye ‘master regulator gene’ Pax6 (a model of abnormal epithelial cell migration). This is an interdisciplinary project and the student will be fully trained, whatever their background, to perform both lab-based biology and computer simulation of wound healing. The student will create corneal epithelial cell lines that are mutant for polarity and migration genes to show how this affects patterns of cell flow. Understanding of how cells turn the panic response to a wound into a healing response, and how the interactions between individual cells as they physically push each other about is translated into coordinated sheet migration, goes beyond intuition and needs new physical models. With collaborators in Universities of Bristol and Leiden, the student will work at the interface of biology and computer modelling to understand cell migration in normal and genetically abnormal eyes. The student will use soft active matter modelling and compare predictions of models to actual experimental data. Our ultimate goal is to understand at a systems level how cell migration is coordinated and which genes control it. This will allow us to understand why some wounds do not heal, and in time to test new pharmacological therapies.

It may be possible to undertake this project part-time, in discussion with the lead supervisor, however, please note that part-time study is unavailable to students who require a Student Visa to study within the UK.

Application Procedure:

Please visit this page for full application information: http://www.eastscotbiodtp.ac.uk/how-apply-0

Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison Innes at

Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form.

Please advise your referees to return the reference form to

Unfortunately due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition (limited funding is available to provide international tuition fees). Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.
Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a relevant subject.


Henkes, S., Kostanjevec, K., Collinson, J. M., Sknepnek, R. and Bertin, E. 2020. Dense active matter model of motion patterns in confluent cell monolayers. Nature Comms. 11:1405. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-15164-5
Findlay, A.S., Panzica, D. A., Walczysko, P., Holt, A. B., Henderson, D. J., West, J. D., Rajnicek, A. M. and Collinson, J. M. 2016. The core planar cell polarity gene, Vangl2, directs adult corneal epithelial cell alignment and migration. R. Soc. open sci. 3: 160658. dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160658
Collinson, J. M., Chanas, S. A., Hill, R. E. and West, J. D. (2004). Corneal development, limbal stem cell function and corneal epithelial cell migration in the Pax6+/- mouse. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 45, 1101-1108.

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