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PhD Studentship - 3D image based modelling of drug transfer through placental nanopores

School of Engineering

Location:  Highfield Campus
Closing Date:  Monday 31 August 2020
Reference:  1253420DA

Supervisor:                 Bram Sengers

Co-supervisor             Rohan Lewis (Medicine)

Project description

How pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins cross the placenta is not clear in many cases and this has a direct impact on drug safety in pregnancy and any medical advice given by doctors. For example, stopping medication could harm the mother, while continuing could harm the developing fetus.

Recently we performed the first 3D analysis of the human placental barrier using state of the art serial-section Scanning Electron Microscopy. This truly unique set of imaging data revealed novel trans-syncytial nanopores directly connecting the maternal and fetal sides of the placental barrier. 

It is currently unclear how much of an effect these pores have on overall drug transfer from mother to fetus because any leakage across the placenta through these nanopores will be counteracted by specific membrane transporters that can actively pump out drugs from the fetal blood circulation. The aim of this project is to use 3D image based computational modelling to establish the role of nanopores on placental transfer in a quantitative manner. 

Imaging data will be converted to finite element models of diffusion and transport accounting for the real complex microstructure of the placental barrier to estimate its effective permeability. This will allow us to determine the extent to which these nanopores could expose the fetus to pharmaceuticals and environmental pollutants and how this could impact on pregnancy advice for different drugs.

To qualify for this position, you need a strong background in engineering, biomedical engineering, quantitative pharmacology, physics, applied mathematics, or related disciplines, with a keen interest in the application of imaging and computational modelling for solving multidisciplinary problems in biology and medicine.

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Bram Sengers, Bioengineering Research Group, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 3300.

Entry Requirements

A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent).

Closing date: applications should be received no later than 31 August 2020 for standard admissions, but later applications may be considered depending on the funds remaining in place.

Funding: full tuition fees for EU/UK students plus for UK students, an enhanced stipend of £15,285 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years. 

How To Apply

Applications should be made online, please select the academic session 2020-21 “PhD Eng & Env (Full time)” as the programme. Please enter Bram Sengers under the proposed supervisor.

Applications should include

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts to date

Apply online:

For further information please contact: 

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