EPSRC DTP PhD project: Dynamic subcellular analysis of novel integrative biomaterials

   Department of Life Sciences

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  Dr Nazia Mehrban  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project commencing on 30 September 2024 under the supervision of Dr Nazia Mehrban in the Department of Life Sciences with co-supervision from Dr Soraya Caixeiro (Physics) and Prof Paul Verkade (University of Bristol; Biochemistry).

Eligible applicants will be considered for a fully-funded studentship – for more information, see the Funding Notes section below.

Overview of the Research:

Technological development and our improved understanding of native tissue repair has led to innovative solutions to address clinical challenges, such as the repair of damaged and diseased tissues. Smart implantable biomaterials seamlessly integrate with healthy tissue in the body by emulating the chemistry and architecture of the internal environment. Careful control of these parameters allows us to influence cell behaviour and promote functional repair towards restoring patient health. Here we aim to understand the subcellular events promoted by our smart biomaterials, as well as behaviour and fate of individual cells over time, to build complex systems that can be tailored to different clinical scenarios.

Our de novo peptide-based system is designed to mimic extracellular matrix chemistry and architecture, allowing us to form cell compatible 3-dimensional (3D) hydrogels.1 By strategically incorporating cell-interacting cues we have been able to promote an environment that not only fosters an anti-inflammatory response but facilitates the restructuring of the cellular milieu for effective wound repair. 2 Diving deeper into the cellular mechanisms that promote these events allows us to refine the design of the biomaterials and create a toolbox of material properties which we can mix and match to address different tissue types. This project will use state-of-the-art biointegrated microlaser microscopy3 and correlative multimodal imaging approaches4 to track and quantify cellular events such as motility, attachment, myogenic fibre formation and contractile phenotype at different scales. Microlasers will enable single-cell tagging and tracking in 3D hydrogel matrices while preserving their sensitivity to intracellular cues, such as contractility. 3,5 Correlative volume electron microscopy will deepen our understanding by connecting multiplexed cell tracking with organellar-scale biochemistry of our unique peptide biomaterials.

This cross-disciplinary project encompassing material science, microscopy, nanofabrication, cell biology and biophysics, has far-reaching implications for healthcare, establishing new methods that drive the design and characterisation of advanced materials towards a more successful biological outcome. This offers a powerful, time-efficient, route for developing material-cell profiles, reducing chronic inflammation, patient discomfort, healthcare costs and implant rejection.

The successful candidate will use high resolution live imaging and electron microscopy techniques to study the behaviour of cells in response to a novel hydrogel-based biomaterial and use the data to present essential criteria for biomaterial design. The Faculty of Science candidate will receive cell culture, assay development and advanced microscopy training and support. Throughout this interdisciplinary project the candidate will gain specific skills in developing integrated multimodal imaging approaches. On the biological side they will gain skills in protein manufacture, material characterisation, cell culture, performing relevant cell assays and imaging. Depending on the candidate’s interests there is an opportunity to develop nanofabrication skills related to laser fabrication as well as building optical setups and hardware integration.

Project Keywords: Biomaterials, Hydrogels, Peptides, Microlaser, Cell Tracking, Correlative Multimodal Imaging, Volume EM

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or high Upper Second-Class UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject such as (though not limited to) Biomedical Sciences, Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Biology. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Nazia Mehrban on email address [Email Address Removed] before applying to find out more about the project and to discuss their suitability for the role.

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Pharmacy & Pharmacology

In the ‘Funding your studies’ section of the application form, please select ‘EPSRC DTP’ from the first drop-down menu. In the ‘Your PhD project’ section, please quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the appropriate fields. Failure to complete these steps will cause a delay in processing your application and may cause you to miss the deadline.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Engineering (12) Materials Science (24) Medicine (26) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project may be considered for a 3.5-year Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC DTP) studentship. Funding covers tuition fees, a stipend (£18,622 per annum, 2023/24 rate) and research/training expenses (£1,000 per annum). EPSRC DTP studentships are open to both Home and International students; however, in line with guidance from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the number of awards available to International candidates will be limited to 30% of the total.


1. Mehrban N, Zhu B, Tamagnini F et al. (2015) Functionalized α-helical peptide hydrogels for neural tissue engineering. ACS Biomater. Sci. Eng. 1: 431-439.
2. Mehrban N et al. (2020) Acta Biomaterialia, 111: 141-152.
3. Vera M. Titze, Soraya Caixeiro, et al. (2023) Hyperspectral confocal imaging for high-throughput readout and analysis of bio-integrated laser particles protocol exchange (2023). DOI: 10.21203/rs.3.pex-2246/v1.
4. Walter A, Paul-Gilloteaux P, Plochberger B, Sefc L, Verkade P et al. (2020) Correlated multimodal imaging in life sciences: Expanding the Biomedical
Horizon. Front. Phys. 8:47. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphy.2020.00047.
5. Caixeiro, S. et al. (2020) Micro and nano lasers from III-V semiconductors for intracellular sensing. in Enhanced Spectroscopies and Nanoimaging 2020 vol.
11468 1146811 (2020).

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