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PhD Studentship: Bionanotechnology-Enabled Monitoring of Disease Progression during Cancer Treatment

The University of Edinburgh

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Edinburgh
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: The stipend for the 2019/20 academic year will be £15,009.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 30th August 2019
Closes: 31st October 2019

An exciting opportunity has arisen for a talented and motivated student to undertake a fully-funded* four-year PhD in Bioengineering at the University of Edinburgh, in partnership with biopharmaceutical company Celgene. The successful candidate will develop a new device that could potentially improve cancer treatment by enhancing the monitoring of disease progression during therapy. The project involves using bionanotechnology to engineer molecular devices and biomaterials to detect/monitor the presence of disease markers in a biological sample.

Effectiveness of cancer treatment varies from patient to patient, and also depends on type of cancer and drug. When patients undergo chemotherapy, sometimes their tumours do not respond, and a different treatment must be tried. Data about disease progression during treatment is therefore critical to inform decisions about drug regimes.

Using blood samples (‘liquid biopsies’) would enable regular monitoring of the tumour’s response to treatment. One cancer marker in liquid biopsies is DNA that has been ejected from the tumour into the bloodstream, but at present there is no approved device for monitoring such circulating tumour (ct) DNA in liquid biopsies. In this project, engineering and life sciences will be brought together to design, build and test a new device for quantifying ctDNA, using self-assembled synthetic DNA structures as an integral part of the operating mechanism.

The PhD will be primarily experimental, in the area of bionanotechnology and bio/nano-engineering. The outcome of the project is expected to be proof-of-concept of our new healthcare technology in a laboratory environment. Further validation studies will follow. Ultimately, the technology could have a considerable impact on cancer treatment, helping clinicians to identify promptly when drugs are failing.

The project partner is Celgene, a biopharmaceutical company that produces a range of cancer drugs including Revlimid® and Abraxane®. The PhD is co-funded by Celgene and the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering (SRPe). The funding covers fees (UK/EU rate), stipend, consumables and some travel.

The PhD will be hosted by the University of Edinburgh, with academic supervisors from Engineering (Dr Katherine Dunn – primary supervisor) and Medicine (Dr Bin-Zhi Qian – second academic supervisor). The industrial supervisors (Dr Cristina Costa Santini & Dr Ines Gonzalez Garcia) are based at Celgene’s R&D site in Seville and they will be actively involved in the project.


Funding (tuition fees and stipend) is available for UK students and EU students.

The stipend for the 2019/20 academic year will be £15,009, with inflation built in for the following years.

Overseas students are not eligible for funding.

Further Information

For further project information and details on how to apply please see above.

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