2021 Student Cohort

  • Omolola Ajayi

    University of Glasgow

    Engineered microenvironments for multiscale mechanobiology of breast cancer

    The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a fibrillar scaffold that plays an important role in physiological processes such as gene expression and in pathologies such as cancer. More specifically, cells interact with the ECM to regulate their migration, proliferation, differentiation, and even death. Fibronectin and collagen are two key proteins of the ECM that have been implicated in breast cancer progression.
    In this project, the student will learn freeze-casting techniques to generate fibronectin-collagen three-dimensional (3D) scaffolds with tuneable microarchitecture and mechanics that mimic either the healthy or the cancerous microenvironment. She will also learn Fӧrster resonance energy transfer (FRET) spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy (AFM) to monitor single protein structure and scaffold stiffness, respectively. These 3D platforms will then be utilized to investigate the effect of ECM structure and mechanics on cancer cells invasion and tumour growth. By tuning collagen and fibronectin properties, we should be able to regulate breast cancer cell functions including cell adhesion and proliferation, and thus, potentially prevent tumour growth and metastasis. Additionally, these 3D ECM-mimicking platforms will allow us to study cells over large volumes, i.e., for long-term cell culture, and therefore have potential applications in tissue engineering as well as regenerative medicine.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Delphine Gourdon

    Secondary supervisor:

    Dr Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Martin Peacock, Zimmer and Peacock

    Funder:

    Aligned External Funding

    Amaziah Alipio

    University of Birmingham

    Cell-based therapies for liver regeneration

    Organ transplantation remains the only effective treatment for end-stage liver disease. However, current methodologies are limited by organ availability, failure of donor engraftment, and vulnerability of tissue to cryopreservation damage. Cell-based therapies provide a viable alternative approach to overcome traditional transplant drawbacks, such as the limited number of donors and transplant rejections. In this project, we will explore cell engineering techniques to introduce bio-orthogonal functionalities onto the surface of bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMMs). Bio-orthogonal chemistry will then be used to selectively decorate the cell membrane with polymeric materials that promote cell adhesion and interactions with the extracellular matrix to allow for better engraftment of BMMs to the surrounding tissue. This ambitious project is highly interdisciplinary in nature, spanning the boundaries of bioengineering, polymer chemistry, and medicine to improve our understanding of cell-material interactions and control cell behaviour, with potential for real impact. The successful candidate will receive training in a wide range of techniques in a unique academic and industrial environment in partnership with InSphero.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Maria Chiara Arno

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Alicia El Haj

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Olivier Frey, InSphero

    Funder:

    EPSRC

    Bianca Castelli

    CÚRAM – NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND GALWAY

    Precision clinical management of chronic neurodegeneration via novel point-of-care device

    TBC

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Una Fitzgerald

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Jonathan Cooper

    Stakeholder:

    Funder:

    SFI

    Santino Chander

    Aston University

    Porcine eye model for the development of ocular surface treatments and contact/intraocular lenses

    The eye is a vital organ for our sense of vision, but there are currently no established in-vitro models for the anterior eye (including the transparent window to the eye [the cornea], and the crystalline lens which allows us to focus at different distances when we are young). This project will optimise a mechanical holder to mount porcine eyes (a waste project of meat production), a fluid pump mechanism to circulate biological fluids which can maintain the physiology of these tissues for 7-10 days, and the mechatronics to simulate blinking and the muscle contraction that controls eye focus. The PhD student will work as part of a multidisciplinary team including mechanical and electrical engineers, clinicians and surgeons to investigate the biological effects of contact lens and surgical implantation of intraocular lenses following cataract surgery and how optimal vision can be restored. Additional projects will include accelerating the ageing of the crystalline lens, such as through growth hormones and microwaves, to simulate fibrotic changes with time.

    Primary supervisor:

    Prof James Wolffsohn

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Nat Davies, Rayner

    Funder:

    EPSRC

    Elaine Duncan

    University of Glasgow

    Bioengineering 3D adipose organoids for type 2 diabetes drug discovery

    Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a growing worldwide health problem that is caused primarily by a loss in ability to respond properly to insulin. Although there are drugs available for T2D, most do not address this insulin resistance. Therefore, there is a clear need for new drugs that directly treat this underlying pathophysiology of T2D. In recent years it has become apparent that insulin resistance in T2D is associated with a chronic low-grade inflammation of metabolic tissues, including adipose. The important role of inflammation in the development of insulin resistance in T2D highlights a key challenge to finding new insulin sensitising drugs: the need for drug screening platforms able to reproduce the complex cellular environment of chronically inflamed metabolic tissue. This PhD project will address this need by bioengineering 3D cultured human adipose organoids that reproduce the environments of both healthy and T2D adipose. To facilitate their use in drug screening, these organoids will also incorporate novel genetically encoded biosensors, allowing for real time assessment of cellular function in both the metabolic and immune cells. Once established, the adipose organoids will be used to identify and characterise novel insulin sensitising therapeutics for T2D.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Brian Hudson

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Matthew Dalby

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Mark Payton and Dr Phill Cowley, Caldan Theraputics

    Funder:

    EPSRC

    Adam Efrat

    Aston University

    Bioprocess development for production of 3D tissues to underpin creation of engineered meat

    World population is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050. There is an increased need to find sustainable food alternatives to support this rapidly growing population. Livestock meat is not sustainable and moreover comes with a detrimental effect on the environment, as well as risks of food-borne diseases and antibiotic resistant bugs.
    Cultivated meat is an alternative food technology that has the potential to offer a healthier and safer option for consumers without any of the drawbacks associated with livestock meat. It is genuine animal meat that doesn’t require animal slaughter and can be produced efficiently in a bioreactor by only using a small tissue sample from the animal. This is a relatively new concept that still requires significant research to reach affordability and the production scale to satisfy market demand.
    Similar to livestock meat, cultivated meat will have a complex structure comprising muscle, fat and connective cells which will give it the taste and the nutritional value of meat.
    This project will develop a bioprocess for cultivated meat production by using an approach that involves cell encapsulation in food-grade hydrogels and co-culture to reproduce the complexity of livestock meat.

    Primary supervisor:

    Prof Ivan Wall

    Stakeholder:

    Funder:

    Aston University

    Josep Fumadó Navarro

    CÚRAM – NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND GALWAY

    Overcoming the challenges of vasculature in the organoid landscape

    TBC

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Mihai Lomora

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Abhay Pandit

    Stakeholder:

    Funder:

    SFI

    Victoria Hughes

    University of Birmingham

    Dynamic in vitro cornea model for designing regenerative medicine approaches

    The cornea is the transparent window in front part of the eye. It is essential for refracting light to enter the eye signaling to the brain via specialized neurotransmitting cells. Damage to any part of this pathway could lead to blindness. Worldwide, the prevalence of blindness is approximately 39 million people. Of these, an estimated 15 million are sight-impaired or severely sight-impaired due to corneal opacity that may be secondary to several causes including infections, trauma, and inflammatory diseases. The incidence approximates 1.5-2.0 million cases of unilateral blindness/year. Persistent corneal ulceration may lead to perforation and the risk of permanent sight loss. Notably, the WHO states that globally, 80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured, and that new treatments for corneal blindness are a priority area. Although many approaches to cornea regeneration have been reported in the field, there is a lack of a fully functional, 3D model of the cornea which mimics the physical and biochemical properties of the cornea in which such technologies could be tested.

    This project aims to build upon promising preliminary development of a novel photocurable material which we have demonstrated to match the physical and chemical properties of the natural cornea. This project will be based on developing a silk fibroin material system which incorporates tailored peptide hydrogels manufactured by Biogelx, in order to produce a novel bioink which will be used to 3D print an in vitro cornea model which could be used test tissue engineered constructs. Furthermore, the in vitro model will aim to provide the lacrimation and mechanical stresses experienced by the eye.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Anita Ghag

    Secondary supervisor:

    Dr Sophie Cox

    Stakeholder:

    Funder:

    University of Birmingham

    Patrick Hurley

    CÚRAM – NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND GALWAY

    Brain organoid and multiple sclerosis-on-a-chip platform for CNS drug discovery

    TBC

    Stakeholder:

    Funder:

    SFI

    Emma Jackson

    University of Glasgow

    Magnetic hydrogels for bone tissue engineering

    Tissue engineering is used to generate lab-based replacements for tissues which have been damaged or need replacement due to disease, following an accident, surgical excision or loss of function. The strategy is to develop 3D structures which mimic the natural tissue in terms of the biological and mechanical properties, this then allows for cell growth, development and differentiation into functional tissue. In this regard, hydrogels have an established track record as 3D models.
    Bone tissue engineering is high profile due to the increased need for tissue replacement in trauma, tumour excision, disease (e.g. osteoporosis) or skeletal abnormalities. Engineered 3D materials for bone can make use of different stimuli, to accelerate the repair and regeneration of the tissue. In particular, magnetic stimulation can promote increased bone formation, allowing for a more rapid and better healing process. Static magnetic fields were found to accelerate cell proliferation, migration and the differentiation of osteoblast-like cells, as well as induce osteogenesis in bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).
    In this project, we aim to generate magnetic hydrogels for bone tissue engineering, which in combination with a static magnetic field, will act to accelerate osteogenesis in bone marrow MSCs.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Catherine Berry

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez

    Stakeholder:

    Funder:

    EPSRC

    James Kennedy

    University of Birmingham

    Recapitulating the liver tumour microenvironment using three dimensional culture of human epithelial, endothelial, and immune Cells

    Cancer therapy using immune checkpoint blockers (ICBs) whichregulate immune cells to target tumour have revolutionised cancer treatments. However, the success rate of ICBs in primary liver cancer remains low (~20%). The exact cause for the low response in liver cancer treatment using ICBs remains unclear. The liver is highly tolerogenic
    which provides an unique environment to allow the immune system to get accustomed to foreign antigens. Liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSEC), which lines the fine blood vessels in the liver make plays an important role in contributing to the tolerogenic function by altering immune cell functions. We hypothesise that liver cancer programmes LSEC’s ability to regulate immune cells that enter the liver, making ICBs therapy less efficient in treating liver cancer. In this project, we aim to develop a novel three-dimensional patient-derived liver model to investigate the interaction between the tumour cells, LSEC and immune cells during liver cancer. We will identify what causes the changes in the LSEC and whether this can be prevented and eventually increase the efficacy of using ICBs in treating liver cancer patients.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Shishir Shetty

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Alicia El Haj

    Stakeholder:

    Steve Swioklo, Atelerix

    Funder:

    EPSRC

    Matthias Lim

    University of Birmingham

    Development of microengineered integrated noninvasive diagnostic technology for traumatic brain injury (MINDTBI)

    This project is of a highly-interdisciplinary nature, at the interface of microengineering, biophysics and medicine, will focus on developing and engineering new methods for improved and accurate detection and assessment of traumatic brain injury (TBI) as well as understanding, monitoring and controlling the cellular and tissue responses to therapeutic treatments. Overall aim will be focused on development and clinical validation of advanced device for point-of-care neurodiagnostics: ‘Microengineered Integrated Noninvasive Diagnostic Technology for Traumatic Brain Injury (MINDTBI)’.
    By engineering novel intelligent micronano-cues combined with advanced spectroscopic techniques to non-invasively detect and quantify TBI at the point-of-care, this project will make important advancements in several fields, envisioned to lead to high-impact publications and patent protection. The multidisciplinary nature of this project will enable developing strong collaborations and integrating scientific findings with related projects as well as building broad skills-set that will maximize the knowledge and chances in making an impact on the world’s academic and industrial stages.
    By diagnosing, monitoring and clinically evaluating TBI patients and better understanding of underlying mechanisms of the diseased tissue and biofluids, the outcomes of this research will lay a platform towards revolutionizing the ways of improving the health and quality of life for millions of people worldwide.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Abigail Spear and Dr Chris Howle, DSTL

    Funder:

    University of Birmingham

    Cameron McAnespie

    University of Glasgow

    From the bee’s knees to biotechnology: Resilin-based hydrogels for cell-culture and bioprinting

    Hydrogels belong to the most promising materials for cell-culture and tissue engineering. While biocompatibility and degradability of hydrogels are vital for use in cell-culture, mechanical properties have a significant impact on the cell differentiation. Therefore, hydrogel systems with well-controlled and tailorable mechanical properties are highly sought after. The present project will investigate the use of resilin in hydrogel fabrication as an environment for cell-growth with the ultimate goal of tissue engineering. Resilin has remarkable properties (as an elastomer it is literally the bee’s knees), which facilitates the introduction of a broad range of mechanical properties together with crosslinking chemistry, e.g. via carbon nitride in the visible light. Moreover, the project will make use of a modular approach to introduce further functions into the hydrogels in order to enhance cell-growth. Overall, the project will give rise to new robust ‘tuneable’ gels that will address many of the shortcomings of existing cell culture media and will represent realistic alternatives to animal derived materials in research.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Drew Thompson

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Jarrod Bailey, Animal Free Research UK

    Funder:

    EPSRC

    William Mills

    University of Glasgow

    Development of automated imaging and spectroscopic cell sorting platforms for research into cancer and metabolic diseases

    Identifying and isolating rare target cells from a population is essential for diagnostics and fundamental research. Although fluorescence-based sorting techniques are commonly used, there are a vast diversity of applications, where fluorescence labelling is either not applicable or not desirable (e.g. when sorting cells for therapeutics).

    This project will develop a versatile microfluidic system that integrates with Raman spectroscopy for sorting living cells based on their intrinsic biomolecular and optical image profiles. It will build upon on our pioneering Raman-activated cell sorting (RACS) microfluidic platforms, with new developments in machine learning and opto-microfluidics. The technology will use single cell Raman spectra that are characteristic of the phenotype, metabolic activity and function of a cell.

    The outcome of this work will open a new avenue for ‘deep mining’ of untapped biological systems and facilitate the study of cellular metabolisms that are manifested in disease states. Within the project, depending on the student’s interests, the focus could be on the study of cancer cells at different stages to discover potential metabolic biomarkers for early cancer diagnosis and screening for potential treatments.

    The project is highly interdisciplinary involving collaborations between engineers, cell biologists, and physical scientists. The student will gain a broad range of skills ranging from microfluidics, to imaging methods and analytical techniques, all in the context of studying the cell biology associated with different diseases.

    Primary supervisor:

    Prof Huabing Yin

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Hing Leung

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Bei Li, Hooke-Instruments Ltd

    Funder:

    University of Glasgow

    Juda Milvidaite

    University of Glasgow

    Engineering encapsulation materials and methods to preserve organoids and biopsy material

    We are seeking a highly motivated student to undertake a multidisciplinary project to solve the problem of how to preserve 3D cell and tissues to enable hospitals and laboratories to undertake personalize medicine studies. Increasingly, it is appreciated that fresh clinical samples or 3D organoids are valuable resources that enable researchers to explore personalized treatments for diseases such as cancers. This project will work in an academic setting, but in collaboration with the biotech company Atelerix to explore their technology around cell encapsulation https://www.atelerix.co.uk/ and how this might be optimized for 3D organoids and biopsy material. Personalised medicine requires that laboratories and hospitals share samples of precious growing cells and living tissues, but the shipment can present problems, including expense, cell viability and preservation of original phenotype. This PhD project will explore the key biophysical parameters needed for optimal cell preservation to keep cells, organoids and tissues viable during transit to improve our capabilities to perform research, including around personalized medicine.

    Primary supervisor:

    Prof Laura Machesky

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Dean Hallam, Atelerix Ltd

    Funder:

    University of Glasgow - MVLS

    Seyedmohammad Moosavizadeh

    CÚRAM – NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND GALWAY

    Development of a biomaterial releasing immunomodulatory extracellular vesicles for enhanced ocular cell and nerve healing following corneal injury: An in-vitro investigation

    TBC

    Primary supervisor:

    Prof Thomas Ritter

    Stakeholder:

    Funder:

    SFI

    Conor Robinson

    University of Glasgow

    Bioengineering of pharma ready bone marrow models for cancer drug screening

    Being able to control haematopoietic stem cell (HSC) growth out of the body, out of their niche, is a major goal of stem cell biology. It would make HSC therapies, such as bone marrow transplant for leukemia treatment, more available by transforming them to become one donor – multiple recipient therapies. It will also allow us to develop in vitro niches to e.g. perform CRISPR on cancerous HSCs to provide autologous curative therapies.
    In our laboratories, we have worked to understand how the partner cells of HSCs in their niche, the mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), are regulated by materials interfaces. This is important as MSCs, that interact with the extracellular matrix in the niche, control HSC growth and self-renewal through cell-cell interactions and paracrine signalling. The understanding we have developed has enabled us to demonstrate that we can bioengineer in vitro niches where MSCs regulate HSC growth to maintain more of the most regenerative HSCs in culture for longer.
    In this exciting new project, the student will develop 3D niche models for HSC growth using microbeads coated in our novel polymers that control how the extracellular matrix is presented to MSCs in order to produce HSC supportive MSC phenotypes. Further, we will work with our industrial partner, Atelerix, to place these marrow microtissues into their hydrogel systems that allow prolonged cell survival at room temperature. This step will be important for translation of our technologies into Pharma use by making them off-the-shelf, reproducible and easy to use.
    The student will join a thriving lab with good links to clinic and to industry and where they will be provided with world-class multidisciplinary training. This will equip the student well for their next career steps.

    Primary supervisor:

    Prof Matt Dalby

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Steve Swioklo, Atelerix Ltd

    Funder:

    University of Glasgow/EPSRC

    Theodora Rogkoti

    University of Glasgow

    Engineered mechanochemical cancer microenvironments

    Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) accounts for approximately 90% of all pancreatic malignancies and has a 5-year survival and average survival of only 10–20% and 6–12 months after diagnosis, respectively. It is urgent to develop in vitro models that can contribute to dissect how the cancer microenvironment influences PDAC cells migration and infiltration to other organs. This project will combine engineered 3D hydrogels with controlled mechanical properties that inserted in microfluidic devices will allow generation of biochemical gradients and on chip investigation of cell migration in dependence of the mechanical and biochemical properties of the environment. The project is a collaboration between the Center for the Cellular Microenvironment and the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research. The project will develop bioengineering tools to answer cancer biology questions and will combine a range of techniques from biomaterials engineering to advanced microscopy.

    Primary supervisor:

    Prof Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez

    Secondary supervisor:

    Dr Catherine Berry

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Jonathan Best, Cell Guidance Systems

    Funder:

    EPSRC

    Viswanath Vittaladevaram

    CÚRAM – NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND GALWAY

    Multiscale characterisation of synthetic blood-brain barrier models

    TBC

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr David Cheung

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Manuel Salmeron Sanchez

    Stakeholder:

    Funder:

    SFI

    Jennifer Willis

    Aston University

    Investigating bioengineering approaches to produce immuno-modulatory mesenchymal stromal cells and their extracellular vesicles for therapy

    Growing large numbers of naïve immunomodulatory Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSCs) in the laboratory remains a key research goal to meet current therapeutic demand for these cells and their products. This is particularly problematic when trying to expand MSCs from older donors as they have reduced immunomodulatory capacity and can be pro-inflammatory due to inflammaging. Therefore finding new methods of consistently expanding MSCs in the laboratory whilst maintaining their immunomodulatory properties remains a challenge.

    This project aims to explore the potential of biomaterial growth conditions to investigate their effects on MSCs from both old and young donors. This has the potential to reveal new strategies to reverse the reduced functionality of MSCs from older donors. In this project you will build on recent observations from our laboratory, using a multidisciplinary approach combining the use of biomaterial growth surfaces and other bioengineering approaches to examine the effects on MSC physiology, metabolism and immunomodulatory function. MSCs from both young and old donors will be compared to examine how these cells respond to the biomaterial growth surfaces and how their physiology is affected. As part of these studies we will examine how optimal naïve growth conditions which promote immunosuppression influences the secretion and composition of extracellular vesicles from the MSCs, an important immunomodulatory mechanism for influencing immune cells.

    Primary supervisor:

    Dr Ewan Ross

    Secondary supervisor:

    Prof Ivan Wall

    Stakeholder:

    Dr Martin Peacock, Zimmer and Peacock

    Funder:

    EPSRC