Smart protein hydrogels: developing new approaches to control drug release from protein-based biomaterials

   Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

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  Prof Lorna Dougan, Prof N Kapur  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This PhD project opportunity is part of an ambitious European Research Council research project which aims to exploit folded proteins to understand and exploit protein networks for future applications. There are three exciting new PhD project opportunities on offer and the new PhD students would be welcomed by a supportive and friendly interdisciplinary team at Leeds. 


Cross-linked folded protein networks are a powerful new class of soft matter system. They display rich structural and mechanical properties and offer enormous potential as responsive and functional biomaterials. We have shown that protein networks display intrinsically heterogeneous structure, specific interactions across different length scales and slow relaxation dynamics. Given this interesting mesoscopic structure and protein relaxation dynamics, how does a small molecule diffuse through this network? A fundamental understanding of small molecule diffusion in protein networks could open the door to powerful new application of protein biomaterials in medicine and healthcare, including in drug delivery and responsive living matrices for tissue engineering.


In this PhD project you will combine a suite of approaches to address this challenge.

1.      You will exploit diffusion ordered NMR spectroscopy (DOSY) experiments to measure the diffusion of small molecules in protein networks and uncover the rules of tuning design space parameters. 

2.      You will exploit a microfluidics-based approach to measure the diffusion of small molecules in protein networks, exploiting controlled, continuous, and unidirectional flow combined with 3D confocal imaging.

3.      You will design an immersion cell for the rheometer which will allow the mechanical properties of protein networks to be measured while their environment is changed.

Experimental Approach:

In this project you will receive training in NMR, which will enable you to measure diffusion of small molecules in protein networks, and analyse detailed kinetics. You will gain training in microfluidics and use the technique to monitor small molecule diffusion in protein networks. You will be supported in the development of new instrumentation to design a bespoke immersion cell for the rheometer and, in parallel, be trained in the application of rheology to study the mechanical properties of protein networks. These experimental approaches will be supported by established in house protein engineering and characterisation to provide access to a selection of well characterised model protein systems. Finally, as the project develops, you will supported in exploring potential applications for exploiting small molecule diffusion in protein networks through established collaborations at Leeds.

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Engineering (12) Materials Science (24)

Funding Notes

A highly competitive European Research Council Studentship in support of Mesonet ERC UKRI EP/X023524/1, offering the award of fees at the UK fee rate of £4,712, together with a tax-free maintenance grant (currently £18,622 for academic session 2023/24) for 3.5 years. This opportunity is open to all applicants. All candidates will be placed into the European Research Council Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.

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