Postgraduate research opportunities

Understanding the mechanisms of ultrasound and microbubble mediated targeted drug delivery

A fully-funded PhD studentship is offered in the Department of Biomedical Engineering to work on an exciting interdisciplinary project aimed at improving the targeted treatment of cancer using ultrasound.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


7 February 2020


28 February 2020


36 months


The ideal candidate will have an undergraduate or Masters level degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject such as biomedical/mechanical engineering or physics.

Eligibility for RCUK studentships

  • Research Council (RC) fees and stipend can only be awarded to UK and EU students and not to EEA or International students.
  • EU students are only eligible for RC stipend if they have been resident in the UK for 3 years, including for study purposes, immediately prior to starting their PhD.
  • If an EU student cannot fulfil this condition then they are eligible for a fees only studentship.
  • International students cannot be funded from RC funds unless they are ‘settled’ in the UK. ‘Settled’ means being ordinarily resident in the UK without any immigration restrictions on the length of stay in the UK. To be ‘settled’ a student must either have the Right to Abode or Indefinite leave to remain in the UK or have the right of permanent residence in the UK under EC law. If the student’s passport describes them as a British citizen they have the Right of Abode.
  • Students with full Refugee status are eligible for fees and stipend.

Project Details

Interest in microbubbles, tiny bubbles of gas that can travel safely around the circulation alongside red blood cells, has grown over recent years as they have been demonstrated as a means of targeting the delivery of cancer drugs. When microbubbles are exposed to ultrasound using a standard clinical imaging system they are forced to expand and contract causing them to push and pull on nearby tissues and generate bio-effects that can enhance drug uptake. At the same time, these microbubbles scatter sound so that the signals returning to the ultrasound scanner can be differentiated from those that come from the surrounding tissues.

Recent clinical trials have demonstrated the use of ultrasound driven microbubbles to target drug delivery in patients, but an incomplete understanding of the underpinning mechanisms has meant that delivery efficiencies have remained low. One particular challenge is the difficulty with which ultrasound driven microbubbles can be studied effectively in vivo. To overcome this, we are developing laboratory-based microvessel flow systems modelled on real tissue for controlled investigation of ultrasound driven microbubbles. Our goal is to use these systems to better understand how microbubbles can be exploited in drug delivery.

Supported by an interdisciplinary team of clinicians and biomedical engineers, the primary aim of this project is to build a comprehensive understanding of how the microvasculature influences the radial oscillation of microbubbles and the sound they scatter. As such there are several directions available to the student who embarks on this project including experimental investigation of microbubbles in artificial blood vessels and/or modelling the way in which microbubbles interact with tissues and sound. The project will be shaped by the interests of the student and supervisory team but is likely to involve some or all of the following techniques: 3D printing, microCT scanning, 3D visualisation, ultrasound experimentation on biological systems and multiphysics modelling.

Funding Details

Funding covers fees and stipend offered at current RCUK rates for the 36 month duration of the project.

Further information


  1. Roger Domingo-Roca, Brian Saltin, James Windmill, Joseph Jackson, Helen Mulvana, ‘Rapid prototyped microvessel flow phantom for controlled investigation of ultrasound-mediated targeted drug delivery’, 2019 IEEE International Ultrasonics Symposium (IUS), 6-9th October 2019, Glasgow. DOI: 10.1109/ULTSYM.2019.8925741
  2. Sonya Frazier, Hannah Morgan, Martin McBride, Angela Bradshaw, Helen Mulvana, Delyth Graham, ‘Ultrasound and microbubble gene delivery for targeting altered placental microRNAs in preeclampsia’, Placenta, vol. 83, pp. e56-e57, 2019.
  3. Elisabetta Sassaroli, Kullervo Hynynen, ‘Resonance frequency of microbubbles in small blood vessels: a numerical study’, Physics in Medicine and Biology vol. 50, pp. 5293, 2005. DOI: 10.1088/0031-9155/50/22/006
  4. Jonathon Casey, Charles Sennoga, Helen Mulvana, Jo V Hajnal, Meng-Xing Tang, Robert J Eckersley, ‘Single bubble acoustic characterisation and stability measurement of adherent microbubbles’, Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, vol. 39(5), pp. 903-914, 2013. DOI: 10.1016/j.ultrasmedbio.2012.12.007
  5. Helen Mulvana, Richard, J. Browning, Ying Luan, Nico de Jong, Mengxing Tang, Robert, J. Eckersley, and Eleanor Stride, ‘Characterisation of contrast agent microbubbles for ultrasound imaging and therapy research’, Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control, Special Issue on Methods and Protocols in Biomedical Ultrasonics, 2017. DOI: 10.1109/TUFFC.2016.2613991

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