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

   School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

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  Prof M Collinson, Dr T Hiscock, Dr Silke Henkes  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the BBSRC EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership.

This is a fundamental research project to understand how the coordinated flocking behaviour of migrating cells emerges from the properties of the single cell, and what genes control this. For the first time we want to understand cell movement across scales, from the response of individual cells to wounding, through to the patterns of cell flow across millimetres or centimetres of space. Cells move as a sheet, pulling and pushing each other to fill holes in tissue. Failure of this process 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 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.



  • Applicants should hold a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Those with a 2:2 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) may be considered, provided they have (or are expected to achieve) a Distinction or Commendation at master’s level.
  • All students must meet the eligibility criteria as outlined in the UKRI guidance on UK, EU and international candidates. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions, esp. TGC 5.2 & Annex B.
  • 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.



  • Please visit this page for full application information: How to apply | eastbio (
  • Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison Innes at: [Email Address Removed]
  • Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form. References should be sent to [Email Address Removed]
  • Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications.
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.

Funding Notes

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students (The proportion of international students appointed through the EASTBIO DTP is capped at 30% by UKRI BBSRC).
EASTBIO studentships includes a UKRI doctoral stipend (estimated at £17,668 for the 2023/2024 academic year), plus a training grant of £5,000 per annum (year 1-3; £1,500 year 4) and a travel/conference grant of £230 per annum.
EASTBIO does not provide funding to cover visa and associated healthcare surcharges for international students.


1.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.
2.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.
3.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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