Access to healthcare diagnostic technologies in resource limited and remote regions is a significant challenge in detecting and, subsequently, treating diseases. Recent advancements in ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology that utilise microfluidics, have reduced the footprint of laboratory scale processes to devices that can fit in the palm of your hand. The small scale of these devices, parallel processing, integration with Internet of Things (IoT) and the ability to work with low sample volumes have shown promise in providing remote healthcare services.
Manipulating cells in liquid environments forms an integral part of these diagnostic devices. For example, performing liquid biopsy on blood to detect cancer by scanning for circulating tumour cells, and detecting bacteria in urine and mucus using immunoassays. As such several microfluidic techniques using electric, magnetic, optic and acoustic fields have been developed to precisely collect and sort cells. However, such techniques require complex and costly fabrication procedures. Furthermore, the use of complex fluidic networks with external fields complicates operating procedures, which requires highly trained personnel. Therefore, there is a need to develop robust cell manipulation technologies that are simple to use, scalable, less energy intensive and cost-effective for use in resource limited settings.
This PhD project aims at using low frequency (~100 Hz) liquid vibrations to develop a low-cost, simple and scalable platform for manipulating cells. When a liquid drop resting on a surface is subjected to periodic vibrations, waves are formed at the liquid-air interface, which collect suspended microparticles at specific locations in the droplet [1-3]. In this project, we will use similar periodic liquid vibrations in rectangular cross-section channels to collect cells. A key difference here is that the cells can deform and actively interact with the liquid flow, as opposed to solid stiff microparticles. The project will investigate the role of cell deformability, shape and interaction with liquid flow to determine how cells move and accumulate within the liquid channel. This knowledge will be used to develop devices that can collect, and sort cells continuously based on their size, shape and stiffness. The PhD project will be co-supervised by Dr Hamdi Torun for advice and support on working with cellular material.
Initially, solid nano and microparticles, of different shapes (spherical and cylindrical) and sizes (100 nm to 100 microns), will be used as testbeds to develop devices that can collect and sort particles continuously for future introduction of live cells. The experiments will be complemented by numerical simulations to quantify the effect of particle size, shape and stiffness on collection location and collection probability to inform series and parallel processing of multi-particulate suspensions including biological cells, organic nanoparticles and liquid emulsions. These continuous processing platforms will be developed in partnership with our industrial collaborators for applications in sorting breast cancer cells, whole blood fractionation (Cellsway Limited, Parker Hannifin) and manipulating liquid emulsions (Micropore Technologies). Considering discussions with these industrial partners and Northumbria University’s IP commercialisation managers, the project also holds significant potential for generating Intellectual Property (IP), and eventual commercialisation.
The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr Prashant Agrawal.
Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
- Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
- Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
- Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.
For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see
Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22-R/…) will not be considered.
Deadline for applications: 20 June 2022
Start Date: 1 October 2022
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.
Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £16,602 per year) and full tuition fees. Only UK candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,961 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
• have settled status, or
• have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
• have indefinite leave to remain or enter.