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School of Engineering and Materials Science Research Studentships

Engineering retinal vascularization on a chip to model pathological events in eye diseases and study the effect of modulator drugs

Supervisors: Helena AZEVEDO, Julien GAUTROT and James Whiteford

Application Deadline: 15-04-2021

By accurately recapitulating the human physiology and pathology, organ-on-chip technologies are increasingly being used as alternatives to animal models to accelerate and improve drug discovery and development.

There are a plethora of ocular diseases affecting structures at the back of eye, such as the retina, choroid or macula. These diseases include age-related macular degeneration (AMD, dry and wet), diabetic retinopathy (DR), diabetic macular edema, proliferative vitreoretinopathy, glaucoma, uveitis, among others. If left untreated, or due to inadequate drug levels from poor delivery, they can be sight-threatening.

This project aims to develop an in vitro model of pathological retinal angiogenesis, a hallmark of wet AMD and DR. The project will exploit biomaterial hydrogels and co-culture systems of immortalized human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells and microvascular endothelial cells in a microchip device to study the effect of pro-angiogenic factors, flow, and pressure, on barrier properties (TEER, cell markers expression, permeability studies, sprouting). Readouts will be measured through biochemical assays and advanced imaging techniques. The in vitro model will serve as an experimental platform for performing pre-clinical toxicological studies, testing the effect of modulator drugs, their clearance and pharmacokinetics, while enabling upgrades in the model complexity to investigate inflammatory events in the presence of immune cells.

The project will combine complementary expertise from the Azevedo, Gautrot and Whiteford labs with strong track-record in the field of biomaterials engineering (hydrogels, membranes, interfaces), photo-patterning and microfluidic systems, artificial micro-tissues, organoids and microvascular research in eye diseases. The multidisciplinary project will be a collaboration with Bi/ond, a company developing engineered microchips for creating biological models, and the Italian Dompe Foundation.

We are looking for highly motivated individuals with Biology background. The project will provide a first-class academic training through the use of state-of-the-art experimental techniques, including: biomaterials fabrication, microfluidics, cell culture/assays and in vitro tissue models. The PhD student will be part of the Centre of Doctoral Training in Predictive in vitro Models for Medical Innovation & Research (PreMMIR) coordinated by the School of Engineering and Materials Science at Queen Mary, University of London. The student will work in a multidisciplinary environment and have access to training opportunities offered by the QM+Emulate Organs-on-Chips Centre and Organ-on-a-Chip Technologies Network. The student will have the chance to work closely and visit the industrial partner Bi/ond while getting to know the vibrant organ-on-chip community in the Netherlands.

QMUL Research Studentship Details

  • This PhD studentship is co-funded by the Italian Dompe Foundation.
  • Available to UK and Italian applicants with Home Fee Status. (See: for details)
  • Full Time programme only.
  • Applicant required to start in 1st June 2021.
  • The studentship arrangement will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend for up to three years (Currently set as £17,285).
  • The minimum requirement for this studentship opportunity is a good Honours degree (minimum 2(i) honours or equivalent) or MSc/MRes in Biology or related discipline.
  • If English is not your first language then you will require a valid English certificate equivalent to IELTS 6.5+ overall with a minimum score of 6 in Writing 5.5 in all sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking).
  • International applicants should refer to the following website at

Supervisor Contact Details:

For informal enquiries about this position, please contact Dr Helena Azevedo, Prof Julien Gautrot or Dr James Whiteford


Application Method:

To apply for this studentship and for entry on to the Medical Engineering programme (Full Time) please follow the instructions detailed on the following webpage:

Research degrees in Engineering:

Please include in the personal statement:

  1. a brief description of your experience and skills relevant to the project;
  2. what you would bring to the project;
  3. how this project fits with your future career goals.

Further Guidance:

Please be sure to include a reference to ‘2021 SEMS QMRS HA' to associate your application with this studentship opportunity.