EPSRC DTP PhD studentship: Monte Carlo simulation of Raman scattering in heterogeneous breast tissue

University of Exeter - College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Main supervisor: Prof Tim Harries (University of Exeter)

Co-supervisor:  Prof Nick Stone (University of Exeter)

Based in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, you will join a vibrant interdisciplinary team focussing on the use of deep Raman spectroscopy for real-time, in vivo diagnosis of breast cancer. This project would suit a candidate with a strong physics or applied mathematics background combined with an interest in biophysics and computer modelling.

Nearly 60,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, and there are 12,000 deaths. Early diagnosis is key, with 90% of women diagnosed at the earliest stage surviving for at least five years, compared to 15% for women diagnosed with the most advanced stage.

Raman spectroscopy is an optical technique used to identify chemicals in a sample via inelastic scattering from vibrating molecules. Differences in the Raman signal from cancerous and normal tissue has already been used to identify early epithelial cancer, but until recently the technique has been limited to the tissue surface at depths of about 1 mm. Prof Stone’s group has now demonstrated that by using deep Raman spectroscopy techniques depths of several centimetres may be probed, bringing subsurface cancers into range.

The aim of the project will be to obtain a detailed, quantitative understanding of the sensitivity and specificity of Raman breast cancer diagnosis via state-of-the-art numerical simulations. You will use software (originally developed by Prof Harries to model light transport through gas and dust in space) that has recently been adapted to model how light propagates through tissue.

Your initial aim will be to implement Raman scattering physics into the code and validate this by making comparisons with experimental data. Subsequently you will construct a breast model based on MRI data segmented to identify the different tissue types. This heterogeneous breast tissue model will provide you with an environment within which you may perform numerical experiments to quantify the sensitivity and specificity of Raman spectroscopy to varying tissue properties, cancer distributions, and probe geometries. The discoveries from your project will feed back directly into the experimental work Prof Stone’s group, with ultimate aim of establishing Raman spectroscopy as a routine diagnostic method in the clinical environment.

You will gain experience in numerical simulations and computer programming, as well as training in laboratory techniques. By the end of the project you will be an experienced quantitative biophysicist, with a highly valued skillset, and you will be well positioned for the next stage of your research career. 

Funding Minimum
3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,296 per year.

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South West England