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Non-invasive imaging of the pathophysiology of early systemic sclerosis; fibrosis and oxygenation

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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Dr A Murray , Prof G Parker , Prof A Herrick , Dr M Dickinson Applications accepted all year round

About the Project

Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a microvascular autoimmune disease that causes lack of blood flow and scarring and thickening of skin and tissues within internal organs. Although rare it has the highest mortality of all the rheumatological conditions and causes significant morbidity. There is currently no cure, indicating greater understanding of the disease is necessary; novel techniques that provide biomarkers to elucidate the disease process and potentially allow measurement of disease severity are required.
The aim of this project is to investigate the evolution of fibrosis and changes in oxygenation within the tissue over the early stages of SSc during which changes tend to be rapid. This will be done using minimally invasive imaging techniques (both optical and ultrasound). This cross-disciplinary project will be carried out at the Quantitative Biomedical Imaging and Microvascular Research Imaging Laboratories (both world-recognised in their fields) to develop a suite of imaging biomarkers that will comprehensively characterise disease progression.
Training will be given on taking measurements from polarisation sensitive optical coherence tomography (as a measure of fibrosis) and photoacoustic imaging (blood vessel structure and oxygenation) . These techniques will then be applied in a cohort of early and later phase patients at baseline and over a period of 18 months in order to assess longitudinal change. Data analysis will be performed to determine the cross sectional and temporal relationships between the parameters from each technique to disease duration and other clinical markers, thereby elucidating the pathogenesis of the condition.
This study may identify new relationships in the pathophysiology of SSc; thus confirming possible early pathways for fibrosis. It is expected that the project will lead to a number of high-profile publications and lay the foundations for the use of multi-modality imaging in future therapeutic trials and, ultimately, in SSc patient care.

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in physics or a suitably related area / subject. Candidates with experience in medical imaging are encouraged to apply. For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. For UK/EU tuition fees are £20,000 and International are £34,500 for 2018/19 academic year.

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.

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