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Micromechanics of Cancer: A Multiscale and Integrated Experimental/Modelling Approach towards Understanding the Hierarchical Heterogeneity in Solid Tumours

   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

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  Dr Yuhang Chen, Prof D P Hand  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

About this Project:

Tissue Mechanics Group at School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh, UK) offers a 3.5 years fully-funded PhD studentship for a highly motivated candidate with strong interest in scientific research and applying knowledge in Engineering and Physical Sciences to biomedical and clinical applications. This studentship is funded through Heriot-Watt James Watt Scholarship (JWS) or Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) schemes.

Human tissue is highly heterogeneous, often involving hierarchical microstructures ranging from cellular to tissue/organ levels across various length scales. When tumour starts to form in soft tissue, its mechanical properties, most commonly in forms such as hyperelasticity and viscoelasticity, are manifested by the ‘composite tissue constituents’, whose intrinsic properties and microstructures also vary over time. Therefore, the micromechanics and ‘structure-property-function’ relations in solid tumours are of great interest to understanding and quantifying their heterogeneity in both spatial and temporal multiscale, which is a key challenge in cancer research that we hope to tackle in this project.

This PhD project will establish a novel framework of cancer micromechanics from a multiscale perspective. The PhD candidate will use a combined experimental and image-based modelling approach to understand the hierarchical heterogeneity in solid tumours. Human prostate and colorectal tissues will be used as the exemplar tissues due to their availabilities from our clinical collaborators at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh. Critically, experimental mechanical characterisation, such as uniaxial/biaxial tensile test, indentation, atomic force microscopy and nanoindentation will be conducted at various length scales. Tissue microstructural models will be obtained through processing and reconstruction using high resolution 2D/3D imaging using histology, scanning electron microscopy and microCT. Based on the experimental tissue characterisation data, image-reconstructed models and the clinical data such as tumour staging/grading, the PhD student will carry out micromechanical finite element analysis to quantify the ‘structure-property-function’ relations across a large number of tumour tissue samples. Using this established framework, heterogeneity in tumour, such as variability in mechanical behaviours and tissue microstructures, will be quantified.

The PhD research will be carried out jointly between the Tissue Mechanics Group (https://tissuemech.hw.ac.uk/) and the Applied Optics and Photonics Group (http://www.applied-optics-photonics.hw.ac.uk/). Working closely with our industrial and clinical partners (CMR Surgical and Western General Hospital, University of Edinburgh), the successful PhD candidate will have the opportunity to develop their career through multidisciplinary research and collaboration and publish their research findings in high impact journals. The PhD candidate will be supervised by a group of academic, clinical and industrial supervisors, and will work with a highly multidisciplinary group of researchers with a range of complementary expertise and lab facilities, to develop academic research skills as well as those for personal and career development, and will have opportunities to be involved in broader research context in micromechanics (CAESAR: Centre for the Analysis, Evaluation, and Synthesis of hierArchical mateRials) and medical device design and manufacturing, e.g. MDMC (https://mdmc.hw.ac.uk/). The PhD work will be associated with a newly-funded £1.25M EPSRC grant awarded to the supervisory team (''Mechanically-intelligent'' Intra-operative Tissue Assessment for Robot-Assisted Surgery (MIRAS)) and the candidate will have opportunity to interact and collaborate with the industrial and clinical advisors on the project and through the network of research groups.


All applicants should have or expect to have a 1st class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in mechanical engineering, solid mechanics, materials engineering, biomedical engineering, applied physics or other related disciplines. The ideal candidate should be highly-motivated and have good written and oral communication skills as well as genuine interest in research and publishing your work. The project will require both individual and group work therefore effective operation in both environments is essential.

How to apply:

Formal applications must be made through the Heriot-Watt on-line application system: https://www.hw.ac.uk/study/apply/uk/postgraduate.htm. You will need to select ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Postgraduate Research’ in ‘Mechanical Engineering’ and insert the primary supervisor’s name in the project details. This information will help us in receiving your application. 

Interested candidates are encouraged to email Dr Yuhang Chen (y.chen AT hw.ac.uk) with a copy of your CV and a short personal statement as part of an informal conversation.

Funding Notes

Funding is available for UK or EU students who have settled or pre-settled status in the UK, and international students. Successful candidate will be offered a 3.5 years fully-funded PhD scholarship with standard stipend rate (approx. £17,668 per year). The expected start date will be in summer or autumn 2023.
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