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GW4 BioMed MRC DTP PhD studentship: Development of a rapid biosensing methodology for “fingerprinting” endocrine and immune responses to stress

Department of Chemical Engineering

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the ‘GW4 BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership’ which is offering up to 17 studentships for entry in October 2021.

The DTP brings together the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter to develop the next generation of biomedical researchers. Students will have access to the combined research strengths, training expertise and resources of the four research-intensive universities. More information may be found here


Dr Nuno Reis (lead), University of Bath, Department of Chemical Engineering
Prof Stafford Lightman, University of Bristol, Medical School
Prof Tony James, University of Bath, Department of Chemistry
Dr Bernardo Castro Dominguez, University of Bath, Department of Chemical Engineering
Prof Julie Turner-Cobb, Bournemouth University, Department of Psychology


This project brings together a world-leading supervisory team from Biomedical Engineering, Neuroendocrinology, Supermolecular Chemistry and Health Psychology at the University of Bath and University of Bristol with a track record of supervision of multidisciplinary research projects for delivering a transformative biosensing methodology for a new generation of rapid diagnostic tools tuned to Neurosciences and Mental Health.

The project would suit a creative, aspirational and open-minded student with background in Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering or Biomedical Engineering or any other relevant science.

Decades of intense research on neurophysiology and psychology identified the mechanisms of response to stress, with the theory of “allostatic load” suggesting an accumulated physiological ‘wear and tear’ leading to dysregulation and poor health. Current procedures for measuring stress hormones and inflammatory cytokines are too laborious relying on bulky sophisticated lab equipment and complex sample preparation. We hypothesise that a simple rapid optical test for ‘fingerprinting’ endocrine hormone and inflammatory biomarkers with the use of a smartphone would speed up diagnosis of endocrine disorders; reduce cost of intervention for patients undergoing therapeutics; enable health psychologists to make more rational decisions; enable neuroendocrine researchers to study more effectively the links of neuroendocrine system with chronic diseases; and provide clinically important information in areas of the world with poor laboratory services.

To validate the research hypotheses, the project will focus on 3 main activities: 1) Supramolecular chemistry synthesise, screening and characterisation of new biosensing reporter molecules (James and Reis); 2) Integration of new displacement assays into miniaturised devices (3D printed, photolitography and melt-extrusion) for finger-prick and sweat analysis (Reis and Castro-Dominguez); 3) Testing the new methodology in endocrinology and health psychology, and benchmark against current analytical methodology (ELISA and MS) (Lightman and Turner-Cobb); we aim to test the methodology with healthy patient samples and carry out testing in a small group of volunteers in order to deliver impact during the time scale of the PhD project.

The student will be able to access state-of-the-art nano- and micro-fabrication facility, surface characterisation and microscopy and imaging facilities at the Centre for Biosensors, Bioelectronics and Biodevices (C3Bio) at Bath and the Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience and Endocrinology (LINE) at Bristol. Manufacturing and performance of the devices can be assisted by CAD, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulation tools and optical imaging and fluorescence imaging, including confocal microscopy all available on both sites.


Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an area appropriate to the skills requirements of the project.

IMPORTANT: In order to apply for this project, you should apply using the DTP’s online application form

You do NOT need to apply to the University of Bath at this stage – only those applicants who are successful in obtaining an offer of funding form the DTP will be required to submit an application to study at Bath.

More information on the application process may be found here


Funding Notes

UK students will be considered for a full 3.5-year studentship consisting of UK tuition fees, a Research and Training Support Grant of £2000-£5000 per annum and a stipend (£15,285 per annum for 2020/21, updated each year).

International applicants (including EU applicants) are also eligible to apply but will be required to pay the difference between the Home UKRI tuition fee View Website and the applicable University of Bath Overseas tuition fee rate View Website. Confirmation of ability to fund the tuition fee difference will be required.


Reis, N. M., Pivetal, J., Loo-Zazueta, A. L., Barros, J. & Edwards, A. D. Lab on a Stick: Multi-Analyte Cellular Assays in a Microfluidic Dipstick. Lab Chip 16, 2891–2899 (2016).
Castanheira, A. P., Barbosa, A. I., Edwards, A. D. & Reis, N. M. Multiplexed femtomolar quantitation of human cytokines in a fluoropolymer microcapillary film. Analyst 149, 5609–5618 (2015).
Spiga, F. et al. Dynamic responses of the adrenal steroidogenic regulatory network. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 201703779 (2017). doi:10.1073/pnas.1703779114
Sun, X. & James, T. D. Glucose Sensing in Supramolecular Chemistry. Chemical Reviews 115, 8001–8037 (2015).

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