Engineering: Swansea University Research Excellence Scholarship: Microneedle Based Theranostics Devices

Closing date: 22 January 2018

Key Information

Swansea University is proud to offer 15 fully-funded PhD scholarships for students commencing study in October 2018 or January 2019.

The scholarships will be awarded on the basis of student excellence across a portfolio of 34 potential projects.

Project details:

This PhD studentship will develop microneedle based devices as novel theranostics paradigm. Microneedles offer a minimally invasive route to transdermal therapeutic drug delivery and diagnostic applications. However, a combined MN diagnostic and therapeutic device (theranostic) is highly novel.

The proposed theranostic platform will unite diagnostic and therapeutic applications in a single microneedle (MN) device, allowing drug delivery and treatment response monitoring. Treatment of cancer by targeting tumour sites using functionalised nanoparticles, followed by stimulation of these nanoparticles to destroy cancerous tissue, is a classic example of a theranostics device.

Therapeutic MN drug delivery device: The therapeutic aspect of the theranostic MN will be used for transdermal drug delivery – which overcomes several drawbracks presented by oral drug delivery (e.g.MN transdermal delivery avoids first pass through and reduced bioavailability). Transdermal drug delivery has thus garnered greater interest in the pharmaceutical industry and indeed, the world wide “transdermal patch” market is estimated at $32 billion even though it is limited to a very small number (<20) of drugs.

Current patches rely on passing small drug molecules through the skin. MN delivery allows a much wider range of larger drug molecules to be delivered transdermally. Transdermal drug delivery assisted by MNs is advantageous as it penetrates the stratum corneum of the skin, thereby allowing the drugs formulations to diffuse through the skin layers and consequently increasing the drug bioavailability - thus increasing treatment efficacy. In addition, our unique hollow MNs will allow a significantly larger drug dose to be delivered, compared to solid MNs currently on the market.

MN Diagnostic: The second aspect of the project is to develop a MN diagnostic device. Dr. Sharma has already developed an MN diagnostic for glucose sensing, and undertaken clinical trials with the device. This PhD will develop MN diagnostics for other analytes, present in Interstitial Fluid (the fluid contained in the skin). Examples will be MN sensors for lactate, drugs and antibiotics.

Novel Thearnostic MN: However, the truly novel aspect of this research is a combined drug delivery and diagnostic device – the theranostic MN. We have a window of opportunity to be the first to develop such a novel device.

The diagnostic potential of these microneedles towards measuring markers in a continuous manner provides real time information on the effect of the therapeutic delivery. Such closed loop system will offer routes for personalising drug delivery.

Impact: MN theranostics could have a huge impact on treatment efficacy, patient drug compliance, patient welfare and quality of life, as well as a huge economic impact – via MN products supplied through pharma-partners.

Project Aim: The aim of this PhD studentship is to develop theranostic MN devices comprising of monolithically integrated drug delivery and sensing components. Once fabricated these devices will be extended to applications designed to manage diseases such as diabetes and antimicrobial drug resistance. This studentship will be jointly supervised by Sanjiv Sharma (First) and Owen Guy (Second). An invention disclosure on the theranostics microneedles with both inventors has been submitted to Swansea’s Technology Transfer Office for assessment and initial filing.

Supervisors: Dr. Sharmahas valuable experience in fabrication of low cost polymeric microneedles and using them as diagnostic tools for monitoring metabolites (e.g. glucose) and drugs (theophylline and penicillin) in the skin compartment. He was involved in successful clinical studies of his polymeric microneedles for continuous glucose monitoring in healthy participants and in participants with Type 1 Diabetes. Prof. Guy has developed technologies for the fabrication of hollow silicon microneedles. Along with Prof. James Birchall (School of Pharmacy, Cardiff University), he has used these for clinical application such as delivering melanocytes (pigment forming cells) in participants with vitiligo (a skin condition where patients have regions devoid of skin pigmentation).

Facilities: All facilities for research work such as MN fabrication (clean room) and characterisation (Electromagnetic suite for SEM) exist at the University’s Bay Campus and the Centre for Nanohealth (CNH) at the Singleton Campus. We will use this studentship to utilise the clinical research facilities and the CNH labs for studies on excised human skin or porcine skin. The supervisors will use their existing collaborations to bring in any extra resources (Instron force station, optical coherence tomography facilities) needed to successfully run the project.

Industry partners: We will also liaise with our industry partners (SPTS, BioMEMS) in MN development and manufacturing and for applications product development. Our aim is to use the PhD to form links with pharma-companies (GSK, Pfizer) and clinicians to progress the MN thernostics into trials and ultimately take them to market.

The successful applicant will also have access to our Postgraduate Research Student Training programmes.

Eligibility

Candidates should have (or expect to obtain) a first class honours degree (or equivalent) and/or a master's degree with distinction in a relevant subject area (engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry or materials science).

Some knowledge of electrochemistry (electrochemical sensors) and CAD design is required.

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is open to UK/EU candidates only.

Funding

The scholarship covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend of £14,553 for 3 years. 

There will also be £1,000 per annum available for research expenses such as travel, accommodation, field trips and conference attendance.

How to Apply

To apply please complete and return the following documents to Dr Vivienne Jenkins (pgrsures@swansea.ac.uk) quoting reference: CENG2

Student applications will be evaluated against the following criteria:

  • Literary and Academic attainments (60%)
  • Demonstrable esteem indicators i.e. ambassadorial skills, instincts and opportunities to demonstrate leadership, experience and interest in extracurricular and community activities (40%)

The deadline for applications is Monday 22 January 2018. 

Informal enquiries before the deadline are welcome and should be directed to Dr Sanjiv Sharma: sanjiv.sharma@swansea.ac.uk