Biomedical Engineering: Fully Funded Swansea University, EPSRC and Bruker-nano PhD Scholarship: Analysing the forces, biomechanics and molecular mechanisms that drive cancer metastasis in vitro

Swansea University

Funding providers: Swansea University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) DTP and Bruker-nano

Subject areas: Biomechanics, Biophysics, cancer cell and molecular biology, high content image analysis, micro rheology  

Project start date: 

  • 1 October 2023 (Enrolment open from mid-September)

Project supervisor: 

  • Professor Huw Summers ()
  • Professor Paul Rees
  • Professor Lewis Francis  

Aligned programme of study: PhD in Biomedical Engineering

Mode of study: Full-time

Project description: 

The faculty of Science and Engineering at Swansea University is pleased to advertise a fully funded PhD position in collaboration with Bruker-nano. Sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project aims to develop novel biomechanical understanding of the differentiation processes undertaken by High Grade Serous Ovarian Carcinoma (HGSOC) cells. The importance of the anomalous mechanical properties of tumour tissues has become increasingly apparent. Indeed, the induction of tumorigenic biochemical signalling, through the reactivation of mechanosensitive pathways in response to pathological mechanical strains, has been shown to correlate with thickening of the tumour extra cellular matrix (ECM), in turn driving tissue stiffening and the construction of physical barriers for both immune cell and therapeutic infiltration. As a result, cancers with excessive ECM deposition are particularly resistant to treatment and immune cell surveillance, linking biomechanics to prevalent clinical challenges. Greater understanding of these process requires innovative technology development.  

The student will split their time between the Biomedical Engineering Department, Bay Campus; the Reproductive Biology and Gynaecological Oncology (RBGO) group located in ILS2, Swansea University Medical School and the applications development team of Bruker-nano, based in Berlin, Germany. The successful candidate will benefit from multidisciplinary study both in Swansea and Berlin.  

The funding will continue the collaborative relationship between Swansea and Bruker-nano, who provide disruptive, enabling technologies to this biomechanics market. This project will combine advanced force microscopy (nanoindentation, AFM based micro rheology) and concomitant immunofluorescence, potentially mapping 3D cell, molecular and biophysical signatures as a basis for new diagnostic and therapeutic treatments to target such mechanical anomalies in cancer. Combining world class, automated biomechanical technology and access to biological samples and IF based analysis software, the project will inform cellular and molecular targets for AFM analysis, testing next generation high content, automated approaches in line with Bruker life sciences development pipelines. 


The focused nature of the collaboration with Bruker requires a specific prior skillset for the PhD student. In addition to a first degree (or Non-UK equivalent as defined by Swansea University) in medical engineering, medical biotechnology or molecular biology, applicants must have experience in: 

  • Use of automated software for Image analysis – e.g. cell phenotype mapping  
  • Using AFM-based high resolution imaging and automated mechanical mapping modes on biological samples  
  • The development of AFM applications in microrheology 

Desirable criteria  

  • A background demonstrating a keen interest in tumour biology  
  • Cell culture skills and, in particular, experience in 3D spheroid culture using cell lines and primary tissue 
  • An understanding of drug development procedures  

English Language requirements: If applicable – IELTS 6.5 overall (with at least 5.5 in each individual component) or Swansea recognised equivalent.

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is open to applicants eligible to pay tuition fees at the UK rate only, as defined by UKCISA regulations.

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