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Enabling stratification of intervertebral disc repair


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Monday 7 June 2021
Project start date
Friday 1 October 2021
Country eligibility
UK only
Source of funding
Doctoral training partnership
Dr Marlène Mengoni and Professor Ruth Wilcox
School of Mechanical Engineering
Research groups/institutes
Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

A funded PhD is available to evaluate minimally invasive treatments for spinal disc degeneration using experimental and computational engineering methods. One area of interest will be the development of a computational testing process able to replicate the variability from patient to patient in intervertebral disc mechanics.<br /> <br /> Back pain is the leading cause of years lived with disability in the western countries, with disc degeneration the main causal diagnosis. Current surgical options have poor long-term outcomes and are highly invasive and non-reversible. There are therefore pressing needs for novel, less invasive, treatments to delay or prevent the need for more invasive options. Emerging solutions, such as the injection of biomaterials in the intervertebral disc to alleviate effects of degeneration, have so far had a poor clinical conversion, with adverse outcomes reported in early-generation products and lack of clinical use. These advert effects are partly observed because preclinical testing (usually on large animals) does not include variability from patient to patient, which has a large effect on the outcome. Little is known about the optimum surgical delivery of these treatments or on which patient characteristics they depend. <br /> <br /> In this PhD project, you will be able to access unique experimental and computational facilities developed through a large programme of research. You will aim to develop a computational testing process for the biomechanical assessment of biomaterials for intervertebral discs which can include patient variability. This will be used to optimise surgical variables in biomaterial injections. The study will include the use of Finite Element Analysis and 3D image analysis alongside in vitro testing methodologies and equipment to examine the mechanical performance of biomaterials injected into the disc. <br /> <br /> You will have a background in Finite Element Analysis, if possible, with knowledge of non-linear modelling. During the project, you may be expected to prepare and test human cadaveric tissue specimens; previous experience in handling human or animal tissue would be beneficial, but not essential. You will learn practical aspects of project management, scientific writing for technical or non-technical dissemination, and gain presentation skills through international conferences and group meetings. You will gain specific technical skills and training in computational modelling including verification and validation aspects, 3D image analysis, experimental testing of tissues, and testing of spinal interventions as well as gaining broader experience in preclinical testing of medical devices.

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

<p><strong>Background</strong></p> <p>This studentship is part of a large multidisciplinary project on the development of novel therapies for back pain.</p> <p>Using novel patented biomaterials at the University of Leeds, we have developed a robust preclinical testing protocol for the assessment of injection of biomaterials in degenerated intervertebral disc which aim to recover disc height and mechanical behaviour. in vitro preclinical testing using either animal or cadaveric tissue is limited by the number of specimens that can be tested. Such preclinical testing is therefore not suitable to test a large range of variables which may be critical to the outcome of treatments. These variables can be either surgical variables such as volume injected or pressure at which it is injected or specimen variables such as variation in the anatomy of intervertebral disc and surrounding structure.</p> <p>This PhD will aim to develop a combined experimental (in vitro) and computational (in silico) testing protocol which can assess these variations. Computational models that simulate the specimen-specific behaviour of treated intervertebral disc present the opportunity to test new repair biomaterials for a wide range of patients, taking into account their variation in anatomy and in tissue structure. So far, our in silico models have been used to inform the development of preclinical testing, identifying important parameters that needed attention. The models developed through this PhD will identify clinical and surgical variables to target the treatment to specific patients&rsquo; characteristics.</p> <hr /> <p><strong>Research objectives</strong></p> <p>In this PhD project, you will aim to develop a computational testing process for the biomechanical assessment of biomaterials for intervertebral discs which can include patient variability. This will be used to define optimum surgical variables for biomaterial injections.</p> <p>Specific objectives will be</p> <ul> <li>the development of robust computational methodologies to evaluate mechanical performance of spinal disc treatment,</li> <li>the acquisition of robust experimental data regarding the mechanical performance of treatment using cadaveric tissue,</li> <li>the validation of computational methods based on 3D specimen-specific imaging and modelling,</li> <li>the development of population models based on 3D image analysis,</li> <li>the identification of key patient-specific characteristics that can be used to answer clinical questions such as how much biomaterial should be injected into the intervertebral disc to restore function.</li> </ul> <hr /> <p><strong>Environment</strong></p> <p>You will join the multi-disciplinary, dynamic Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (<a href="">IMBE</a>) embedded within the School of Mechanical Engineering and the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. The IMBE is a world-renowned medical engineering research centre which specialises in research and translation of medical technologies that promote &rsquo;50 active years after 50&rsquo;. In this PhD project, you will be able to access unique experimental and computational facilities developed through a large programme of research.</p> <p>As a PhD student within IMBE, there will be opportunities to contribute to wider activities related to medical technologies including public and patient engagement, group training and social events. Groups of researchers working on aligned projects or using similar methods meet regularly to share ideas and best practice, and we encourage collegiate working. We will support your long term career ambitions through bespoke training and encourage external secondments, laboratory visits or participation at international conferences.</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 research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is <em>Enabling stratification of intervertebral disc repair&nbsp;</em>as well as <a href="">Marlene Mengoni</a> as your proposed supervisor.</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>We welcome applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.</em></p>

<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>A highly competitive EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship consisting of the award of fees with a maintenance grant of &pound;15,609&nbsp;per annum&nbsp;for session 2021/22&nbsp;for 3.5 years.<br /> <br /> This opportunity is open to all applicants, with a number of awards for Non-UK nationals limited by UKRI to 1. All candidates will be placed into the EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.</p> <p>The&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website will be updated in due course with information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals starting from September/October 2021.</p>

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

<p>For further information please contact the Doctoral College Admissions<br /> e:&nbsp;<a href=""></a><a href=" ">k&nbsp;</a>or +44 (0)113 343 505.</p> <p>For information regarding the project please contact the Dr Marl&egrave;ne Mengoni<br /> e: <a href=""></a></p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked funding opportunities</h3>
<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>