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University of Bath URSA project: A Computational Polymer Design Protocol for Biomarkers Detection.

   Department of Chemical Engineering

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  Dr C Herdes, Dr Hannah Leese  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the University of Bath URSA competition.


Imagine you press a key against soft clay, leaving an exact key imprint in the clay. One can use this key-clay profile to make precise copies of the original key, as often done in old detective films! Now imagine that, instead of the key, one manages to use genes, proteins, and other molecules, called biomarkers. Biomarker detection provides information about a particular disease at an early stage. During this PhD project, you will use a supercomputer to design the best polymer (clay) for any needed biomarker (key). The computer results will save time and money and guide accurate biomarkers test production.

The main objective is to compile a general computational protocol for designing molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) with specific biomarker recognition capabilities towards the microfabrication of rapid point-of-care tests for diagnosing and monitoring diseases. The base case is the molecular imprinting of serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) as a known biomarker for prostate cancer.

Molecular interaction is ubiquitous in biological systems, where molecules cooperate through specific pathways to accomplish particular tasks, e.g., the PSA is secreted by the prostate gland's epithelial (and cancer) cells to liquefy semen allowing sperm mobility.

For optimal identification of PSA in blood, a MIP will be designed by screening the interactions, at the molecular level, between epitopes (a specific piece of an antigen to which an antibody binds) from the carboxyl-terminus tail of PSA and functional monomers (FM, e.g., methacrylic acid.), crosslinkers (CL, e.g., ethylene glycol dimethacrylate.) and solvents (SOL, e.g., dimethyl sulfoxide). One epitope PSA MIP, ePSA-MIP, is obtained by polymerising FM and CL around the ePSA of interest in a given SOL. Removal of the ePSA and SOL molecules left behind a polymer with cavities complementary to the ePSA's size, shape, and binding chemical groups, imprinting a molecular memory into the polymer, mimicking the mechanism of molecular recognition present in many biological processes.

The proposed MIP rational design strategy will set the next generation of MIPs with optimal molecular recognition; this is a timely and disruptive technology with foreseen impact on the UK modern society health via the manufacture of optimal biomarkers tests.

Candidate Requirements

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent). A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous. No previous knowledge of molecular simulation is required as the PhD project envisage hands on training. 

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement by February 2023 in order to be considered for funding.

Enquiries and Applications

Informal enquiries are encouraged! Direct these to Dr Carmelo Herdes - [Email Address Removed]

Please make a formal application via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Chemical Engineering

When completing the form, please identify your application as being for the URSA studentship competition in Section 3 Finance (question 2) and quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the ‘Your research interests’ section. 

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Funding Eligibility

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements:

  • UK nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland)
  • Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland)
  • Those with Indefinite Leave to Remain
  • EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

We value a diverse research environment and strive to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We encourage applications from under-represented groups. In particular, we are welcoming applications from candidates with Refugee, Asylum Seeker, or Humanitarian Protection in the UK to our Doctoral Sanctuary Studentship in Engineering and Design.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

The Disability Service ensures that individuals with disabilities are provided the support that they need. If you state if your application that you have a disability, the Disability Service will contact you as part of this process to discuss your needs.

Keywords: Bioengineering; Biomedical Engineering; Cancer Biology; Chemical Engineering; Computational Chemistry; Molecular Biology; Nanotechnology; Polymer Chemistry; Software Engineering; Thermodynamics

Funding Notes

Candidates may be considered for a University of Bath (URSA) studentship tenable for 3.5 years. Funding covers tuition fees at the ‘Home’ rate, a stipend (£17,668 p/a in 2022/23) and a £1000/annum training budget.
As URSA studentships only cover the ‘Home’ tuition fee rate, Overseas students are not eligible to apply. Are you an Outstanding Overseas student (e.g. with a UK Masters Distinction or international equivalent) who is interested in this project? If so, please contact the intended supervisor in the first instance, to discuss the possibility of applying for additional funding.

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