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PhD Studentship: Exploring the Mechanobiology of Cell-nanoparticle Interactions using Systems Approaches

University of Bath - Biology & Biochemistry

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Bath
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,009 UKRI annual stipend (2019/20 rate) + tuition fees + training support grant
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 23rd October 2019
Closes: 8th December 2019

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project based in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry under the supervision of Dr Julia Sero.

Project description:

Mechanobiology is the study of how cells sense and respond to physical forces. Mechanical signals from the environment and physical communication between cells are critical for normal development, wound healing, and disease pathology. Cells transmit mechanical signals through the extracellular matrix, adhesion receptors, the cytoskeleton, and the nuclear lamina to give rise to changes in behaviour such as migration, proliferation, and differentiation. Understanding how cells process mechanical information has broad therapeutic applications, from cancer therapy to tissue engineering. Cells are increasingly exposed to synthetic materials of sub-micron size in the form of industrial waste products and biomedical applications. My group is interested in how cells transduce mechanical signals into changes in gene expression in response to micro- and nanometer-sized particles. This work is relevant for assessing the biosafety of medical implants and environmental pollutants, predicting the efficacy of drugs on cells in different microenvironments, and treating diseases such as cancer.

The core methodologies we use are high content microscopy and automated image analysis, which allows us to measure hundreds of parameters in thousands or even millions of individual cells. Statistical models and machine learning will then be used to infer relationships between variables, and to generate hypotheses to be tested in the lab. Computation and experimentation thus form an iterative research process.

This PhD project will focus on the investigating signalling networks that regulate inflammatory responses to micro- and nanoparticles, such as small GTPase-mediated cytoskeleton remodelling. In addition to basic cell biology, candidates should have some background in biostatistics/math modelling, coding/scripting (R or Python), and/or computer vision. Training will include key techniques in animal cell culture, optical microscopy, live cell imaging, molecular biology, gene and protein expression analysis, and collaboration with groups in mathematics, engineering, pharmacology and computer science.

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent qualification gained outside the UK) in a relevant subject. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous. Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.


Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr. Julia Sero.

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology.

Please ensure that you quote the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here.

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Funding notes:

UK and EU candidates applying for this project will be considered for a University Research Studentship which will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a training support fee of £1,000 per annum and a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 in 2019-20) for a period of up to 3.5 years.


Sero JE and Bakal C. (2017) Multiparametric Analysis of Cell Shape Demonstrates that β-PIX Directly Couples YAP Activation to Extracellular Matrix Adhesion. Cell Systems 4(1):84-96.e6. DOI:10.1016/j.cels.2016.11.015

Sero et al. (2015) Cell shape and the microenvironment regulate nuclear translocation of NF-kB in breast epithelial and tumor cells. Molecular Systems Biology 11(3):790.

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