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Painting living matrices: developing tools for spatio-temporal patterning of biomaterials


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Friday 31 May 2024
Country eligibility
UK only
Source of funding
Research council
Professor Lorna Dougan
Additional supervisors
Professor David Brockwell (Molecular & Cellular Biology), Professor Nikil Kapur (Mechanical Engineering)
School of Mechanical Engineering, School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, School of Physics and Astronomy
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

About the project:<br /> This PhD project opportunity is part of an ambitious European Research Council funded research project which aims to exploit folded proteins to understand and exploit protein networks for future applications. There are three exciting new PhD project opportunities on offer and the new PhD students would be welcomed by a supportive and friendly interdisciplinary team at Leeds which spans Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computing and Engineering. <br /> <br /> Background:<br /> Matrices, also known as hydrogels, made from biological molecules are ideal environments for cells due to their biocompatibility, chemical permeability, and mechanical properties such as specific swelling, elastic and viscoelastic properties. Their high water content (70&mdash;99% vol %) hydrates the encapsulated living cells, while the cross-linked network provides structural integrity. However, these natural matrices have high batch-to-batch variability, and their properties are difficult to predictably modulate. Conversely, simple synthetic alternatives, such as peptides, exhibit limited biological functionality. Our group are developing functional building blocks to have the dual advantage of pre-defined/designed matrix properties (stiffness, viscoelasticity, porous structure) and biological functionality (cellular attachment and differentiation) (Nature Comms, 14, 5593, 2023, Biomaterials Science, 11, 2726, 2023), ACS Nano 15, 11296, 2021). <br /> <br /> Objectives: <br /> In this PhD project by exploiting your expertise in engineering or physical sciences you will design and create a suite of engineered living matrices using folded and functional proteins as your building block. <br /> 1. You will develop and build optical grids and laser printing methods to create patterned protein networks to control the spatial architecture and stiffness of the matrices<br /> 2. You will employ rheology and microscopy to characterise the mechanical and structural properties of the patterned matrices<br /> 3. You will collaborate with medical and healthcare experts to explore the potential of the engineered matrices for applications in disease modelling and drug delivery. <br /> <br /> <br /> <br />

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p><strong>Experimental approach:</strong></p> <p>You will be supported by a strong team of interdisciplinary researchers which span protein engineering, mechanical and structural characterisation of proteins through to protein networks (hydrogels) and engineering of bespoke instrumentation for dynamic modulation of biomaterials. You will join this team and engineer a platform for spatial and temporal control of protein network formation, creating matrices which are dynamic and responsive to mechanical and chemical cues. Training will include mechanical and structural characterisation of hydrogels using rheology and scattering, support in the engineering of optical grids and laser printing methods to control the spatial architecture and stiffness of the matrix and collaboration with experts who use matrices for the study of disease modelling and drug delivery.</p> <p><strong>Supervision:</strong></p> <p>You will be supervised by Prof Lorna Dougan (<a href=""></a>), European Research Council Fellow, School of Physics and Astronomy and Prof David Brockwell (<a href=""></a>), School of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Prof Nik Kapur (<a href=""></a>), School of Mechanical Engineering. All supervisors are committed to embedding positive and inclusive research cultures in their groups. The supervisors will work together to ensure expectations on students and of supervisors are clearly defined and communicated. Open, respectful, and constructive communication within the team is actively fostered through individual and regular group meetings. We welcome applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds across the physical and biological sciences and engineering. You will join a friendly and supportive interdisciplinary team and benefit from excellent research facilities and the wider, vibrant research environment of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology and Bragg Centre for Materials Research.</p> <p><strong>Twitter: <a href="">@DouganGroup</a></strong></p> <p>Interested candidates are strongly encouraged to contact the project supervisors to discuss your interest in and suitability for the project prior to submitting your application.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the Planned Course of Study section that you are applying for <em><strong>PHD Physics &amp; Astronomy</strong></em> and in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is&nbsp;<em><span style="font-size:12pt"><span style="line-height:115%"><span style="font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;,serif"><strong><span style="font-size:11.0pt"><span style="line-height:115%"><span style="font-family:&quot;Calibri&quot;,sans-serif">Painting living matrices: developing tools for spatio-temporal patterning of biomaterials</span></span></span></strong></span></span></span></em> as well as&nbsp;<strong><a href="">Professor Lorna DOUGAN</a> </strong>as your proposed supervisor. Please state in the Finance section that the funding source you are applying for is&nbsp;<em><strong>European Research Council Studentship: Mesonet ERC UKRI EP/X023524/1.</strong></em></p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p><em>As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. Across all Faculties we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</em></p> <p class="MsoNoSpacing">Applications will be considered on an ongoing basis. &nbsp;Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisors for an informal discussion before making a formal application. &nbsp;We also advise that you apply at the earliest opportunity as the application and selection process may close early, should we receive a sufficient number of applications or that a suitable candidate is appointed.</p> <p>Please note that you must provide the following documents in support of your application by the closing date of 31 May 2024:</p> <ul> <li>Full Transcripts of all degree study or if in final year of study, full transcripts to date</li> <li>Personal Statement outlining your interest in the project</li> <li>CV</li> </ul>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p class="MsoNoSpacing">A highly competitive European Researrch Council Studentship in support of Mesonet ERC UKRI EP/X023524/1, offering the award of fees at the UK fee rate of &pound;4,712, together with a tax-free maintenance grant of &pound;19,237 per year for 3.5 years.</p> <p>This opportunity is open to UK applicants only. All candidates will be placed into the European Research Council Studentship Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.<br /> <br /> Please refer to the&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website for&nbsp;information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For further information about this project, please contact Professor Lorna Dougan by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <p>For further information about your application, please contact Doctoral College Admissions by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p>