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PhD Studentship: Understanding the Role that Materials Play in the Regeneration of New Tissue During Healing

University of Birmingham - Chemical Engineering

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Birmingham
Funding for: UK Students
Funding amount: Fully funded
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 9th February 2024
Closes: 16th March 2024

Healing is a fundamental aspect of life, aimed at preventing infection and restoring bodily function, where the biological process has been developed through an evolutionary standpoint. To this end, healing itself prioritises speed over perfection, where historically infection could have led to serious morbidity and high levels or mortality. Unfortunately, rapidity often leads to dysregulation and poor healing outcomes, for example fibrotic tissue formation, that in itself has many disadvantages – loss of proper tissue function, potential pain and psychological side-effects. Although there is a common perception that such improper healing is a mild disease, in reality it leads to associated costs ca. $4 billion and significantly affect the lives of 100s millions individuals each year.

Healing itself is a highly complex process, consisting of multiple-stages (haemostasis, inflammation, proliferation and remodelling) and a diverse array of biomolecules (proteases, cytokines etc), cell types and physical/mechanical forces. As a result, it is difficult to pin-point one singular therapeutic which is capable of providing a cure. More recently, the role that the surrounding tissue environment in templating better healing has become much more apparent; with evidence that local physicochemical cues (forces and key chemical signatures) can guide intrinsic cell behaviour towards better healing outcomes. This has opened an exciting new area of study, which looks at how materials can be used to stimulate tissue regeneration across the biological interface.

This interdisciplinary PhD project, conducted within the Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI) at the University of Birmingham, aims to explore how novel materials can be developed in order to guide cellular behaviour. Within the research team we have produced a unique class of hydrogels, where control over the gelation of poly (ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA), within a continuously sheared environment, results in a hierarchal microstructure, capable of recreating architectures analogous to granulation tissue. Through structuring in this manner, we can control matrix stiffness, and local chemical signatures, demonstrating the ability to manipulate and regulate cellular pathways. As such, these materials provide a unique opportunity to study cell behaviour during the proliferative phase of healing, recreating not only the cell locale, but also the evolving mechanical forces during wound maturation. The focus of the research will be understanding how these materials, at a micron-sized scale, interface with cellular-types known for their role in healing. Through improved understanding of how these interactions can be manipulated, new biomimetic materials will be produced, with the view to template better healing outcomes. As such, there will be a direct translational medicine aspect to this project, seeking to maximise the research outcomes towards the clinic and patients. 

The project will be supervised by Dr Richard Moakes (R.J.A.Moakes@bham.ac.uk).

Additional Funding Information

This is a fully funded PhD through the School of Chemical Engineering.

 

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