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EPSRC DTP PhD project: Modelling the interaction between cells and de novo implantable 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 in October 2023.

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

Supervisory Team:

Lead supervisor: Dr Nazia Mehrban, Department of Life Sciences

Co-supervisor: Dr Kit Yates, Department of Mathematical Sciences

Overview of the Research:

Designing novel biomaterials to mimic the complex environment of the body, e.g., for tissue replacement and medical device coating, requires optimisation of the chemistry and architecture. Cell response is evidenced through costly and time-consuming studies which often include animals.1 Predicting how cells interact with the biomaterial, prior to these studies, is non-trivial as cell-cell interactions are further influenced by the surrounding proteins. The aim of the project is to develop a valuable tool to optimise biomaterial design, bypassing the need for cell-based experiments, reducing the research and development carbon footprint, and the number of animal studies required.

Mathematical modelling of biological processes like wound-healing or angiogenesis has a rich history.2 However, the models used often exclude the fine details underlying biological processes. We have developed novel modelling methods encompassing both cells and the environment they interact with.3-5 These models have the potential to be transformative for biomaterial design.

We have also developed novel peptide-based biomaterials that form 3-dimensional hydrogels, promoting an anti-inflammatory environment and wound healing upon implantation.6 These hydrogelating self-assembling fibres (hSAF) can be chemically modified to interact with cells7, mimic some properties of the body and influence cell behaviour.8,9 We propose to study the effect of changes to hSAF architecture and chemistry on cell behaviour using mathematical modelling techniques. Individual cells will be tracked through experimental assays, including those that focus on cell viability, movement, adhesion, and protein expression, supporting the construction of accurate modelling frameworks which provide valuable insights into refining the biomaterial further. A state-of-the-art high-content confocal fluorescence microscope with automated image analysis and capable of recording high-frame-rate time-lapse 3D videos will generate data towards cell structure, protein quantity and localisation, cell and subcellular dynamics and motility.

This project has far-reaching implications for healthcare, establishing new methods that drive the design and characterisation process 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 mathematical modelling 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 modelling data will be supported by lab-based experiments for which they will receive cell culture, assaydevelopment and microscopy training and support. Throughout this interdisciplinary project the candidate will gain specific skills in agent-based stochastic and continuum deterministic modelling as well as learning about state-of-the-art mathematical hybridisation techniques. On the biological side they will gain skills in protein manufacture, material characterisation, cell culture, performing relevant cell assays and imaging.

Project keywords: biomaterials, hydrogels, peptides, agent-based modelling, hybrid modelling.

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant subject such as (though not limited to) mathematics 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.

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.


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 (£17,668 per annum, 2022/23 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.

References

1. Williams DF (2019) Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, 7: 1-10.
2. Guerra A et al. (2018) Journal of Theoretical Biology, 459: 1-17.
3. Chapelle G and Yates CA (2019) Physical Review E, 99: 062413.
4. Yates CA et al. (2017) Bulletin of Mathematical Biology, 79: 2905-2928.
5. Ross RJH et al. (2017) NPJ Systems Biology and Applications, 3: 1-10.
6. Mehrban N et al. (2020) Acta Biomaterialia, 111: 141-152.
7. Mehrban N et al. (2014) Advanced Healthcare Materials, 3: 1387-1391.
8. Mehrban N et al. (2015) ACS Biomaterial Science & Engineering, 1: 431-439.
9. Mehrban N et al. (2021) Material Science and Engineering, 122: 111935.

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