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IBioIC funded PhD developing Microfluidics for Cell Therapy Bioprocessing Applications


   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

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  Dr H Bridle, Dr Nik Willoughby  Applications accepted all year round

About the Project

4 year fully funded studentship: eligibility for UK or EU students

The cell therapy market has generated revenues of over $100 billion and is predicted to grow by 20% to deliver an annual revenue of $8.8 billion in 2016. Good clinical trial results have been demonstrated and over 300 products are already in the clinical pipeline, with around 100 of these based on human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). These therapies should address previously unmet medical needs, improving the lives of millions. One of the main hurdles in the development of these technologies in the downstream processing, i.e. the isolation and purification of products with high safety, purity and potency. This is particularly important in hPSCs where undifferentiated cells remaining in a sample represent a risk of tumour formation upon implantation into patients. There has been scant work on scalable systems which will be essential as large scale production develops.

One particularly challenging application within stem cell regenerative medicine is the development of red blood cells for blood transfusions. The requirements are to separate millions of cells and handle volumes of L/hour. The gold standard within this field is the Milteny MACS system, which offers good purity but is expensive, difficult to integrate and requires labelling.

The aim of this PhD project is to investigate the performance of microfluidic techniques for rapid and label free red blood cell (RBC) purification with a particular focus on scalable systems. The ultimate goal is to build stacked microfluidic devices capable of processing litres of sample. The student will develop different methods of passive hydrodynamic microfluidic separations optimised for this task, building on existing research in Dr Bridle’s group, where such systems have been utilised for waterborne pathogen separation.

The PhD student will join a group of 2 postdoctoral researchers and 4 other PhD students as well as interact with Dr Willoughby’s group with 2 postdocs and 2 PhD students in this area. The research will be based in Institute for Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering (IB3) at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and complement and be complemented by our active research programs in microfluidics for sample processing and cellular therapy bioprocessing. Our group is passionate about outreach activities and the student will have many opportunities to engage with the general public at science festivals as well as work closely with industrial partners (e.g. Epigem. There is also scope for international collaboration with universities around Europe and in Canada and Australia.

We offer an ideal opportunity for an enthusiastic student to work at the scientific interface within the multi-disciplinary environment offered by IB3. The student will work across disciplines: with biologists, chemists processors and engineers. This project will require the student to design, fabricate and test microfluidic systems and we welcome candidates with a background in physics, chemical or mechanical engineering, bioprocessing or biomedical areas. As this is an interdisciplinary project full training will be given to the student to develop skills in new disciplines.

IB3 is focused on applying advances in the chemical, physical, and engineering sciences to enable and enhance life science research. The interdisciplinary research interests of the members and the state-of-the-art facilities provide a unique environment for integrative research. Approximately 100 PhD students are currently being trained in our Graduate School who benefit from core skills courses, post-graduate society activities and a truly inter-disciplinary environment in a beautiful campus.

Interested candidates are encouraged to contact the project supervisor, Dr. Helen Bridle ([Email Address Removed]) for further details.
Primary supervisor: Dr Helen Bridle; Second supervisor: Dr Nik Willoughby; Industrial partner: Epigem; Funded by: IBioIC

How to apply:

Applicants should submit a covering letter stating clearly why they are interested in applying for the studentship. Please use the reference code IBioICHB in all correspondence. Applications should include a full up-to-date C.V. (include vacation address), and names and addresses of two academic referees, sent to: [Email Address Removed]