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PhD Automated microfluidic anticancer drug screening of human tumour biopsies.

A 36-month full-time, fully-funded PhD, supported by the University of Strathclyde and AMS Biotechnology (Europe) Ltd, focusing on the automation of a microfluidic platform for screening human tumour tissue biopsies and developing in vitro immunotherapy assays.

Number of places

One

Funding

Home fee, Stipend

Opens

17 January 2018

Deadline

2 March 2018

Duration

3 years

Eligibility

To be considered for the project, candidates must:

  • Have been awarded or be about to receive a first or an upper second (2.1) UK BEng Hons or MEng degree in a relevant engineering or biotechnology related subject. Candidates with a first degree in biology/pharmacology will be considered if possessing a technology-oriented attitude.
  • Have skills and understanding of image processing analysis.
  • Be highly motivated, independent and results-orientated, with excellent team-working skills and a problem-solving attitude.
  • Adhere to Research Council (RCUK) eligibility criteria if a UK or eligible EU national

Expertise in experimental research in bioengineering, 3D cell culture and/or programming in Matlab or C code would also be preferable.

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

One primary challenge in the management of all cancers is the identification of anticancer drug efficacy. Typically, a stratified or genetic-based approach is used to identify a therapy, but this often leads to severe patient side-effects or unsuccessful therapies. The ability to directly screen patient-derived biopsies prior to treatment could inform the best therapeutic strategy in a personalised manner. The use of spheroids (multicellular tumour models) for drug screening purposes provides useful tools to recapitulate drug resistance and penetration. However, the majority of these studies rely on cancer cell lines that provide too simplistic a model compared to a primary tumour. Alternatively, when human tumour tissue is used, procedures are manual and involve the use of animals into which the spheroid is engrafted (i.e. patient derived xenografts), involving high costs per screen per patient. A cost-effective, animal-free solution is provided by microfluidic technologies, facilitating combinatorial screening of tumour biopsies using miniaturised, high-throughput assays that are also amenable to developing novel immunotherapies. We have already developed a microfluidic technology for growing prostate cancer patient biopsies as cancer enriched multicellular spheroids. Our system, engineered to apply a drug concentration gradient over hundreds of biopsy-derived spheroids without the need of external instrumentation (patent pending), enables testing of 9 compounds in triplicate per biopsy, creating an unprecedented screening capability in this sector. For this technology to have impact in preclinical screening and drug development settings, scalability, ease of use and interfacing with standard biotech readout equipment must be addressed.

Within this studentship, in collaboration with our industrial partner AMS Biotechnology (Europe) Ltd (AMSBIO), we aim to automate and standardise a microfluidic system allowing its uptake in SME R&D labs. The experimental plan comprises three objectives:

  1. Evaluation of the most throughput-effective and physiologically-relevant tissue preparation methodology that will enable spheroid formation for anticancer drug testing and immunotherapy assays.
  2. Optimization of a microfluidic system for the automated time-controlled delivery of fluids.
  3. Design and validate the microfluidic platform for interfacing with well-plate reader instrumentation.

The project will start on 1st October 2018.

Funding Details

For UK and eligible EU nationals: Funding covers full tuition fees and provides a stipend of £15,398 (tax free) per year, for the duration of the project.

For International (Non-EU) candidates: Funding covers tuition fees, but additional sources of funding need to be identified to cover the stipend and other costs associated with the PhD Programme.

Supervisor

The primary supervisor will be Dr Michele Zagnoni who will provide the required expertise in microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip techniques, as well as in software development and equipment interfacing.

The second supervisor is Professor Deepak Uttamchandani, an expert in microsystem technology. Additionally, the project will benefit from a collaboration with Dr Joanne Edwards, University of Glasgow who will provide expertise in cancer biology and drug screening and Mr Sim of the industrial partner, AMS Biotechnology (Europe) Ltd AMSBIO, who will provide industrial and commercial perspectives in anticancer drug screening, as well as facilitating interaction with Pharma and the biotech sectors.

Contact us

For further information or to request an informal discussion regarding the studentship, please contact Dr Michele Zagnoni 

How to apply

For further information or to request an informal discussion regarding the studentship, please contact Dr Michele Zagnoni on michele.zagnoni@strath.ac.uk or www.zagnonilab.com

Candidates interested in applying should then email their CV, with contact details of at least two academic referees, and a covering letter highlighting your interests and suitability for the project to Dr Michele Zagnoni.

Following review of the application submissions, selected candidates will be invited for interview.

The Application submission deadline is 2nd March 2018.

The project will start on 1st October 2018.