Closing date: 12 February 2024

Key Information

Fully Funded UKRI and Swansea Bay University Health Board PhD Scholarship: ​Mathematical modelling the role of circulating tumour DNA in diagnosis and therapy

Funding providers: UKRI and Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB)

Subject areas: Mathematical modelling of cancer, biomathematics

Project start date: 

  • April 2024 (Enrolment open from mid–March)
  • 1 July 2024 (Enrolment open from mid-June) 


  • Dr Noemi Picco (Swansea University-
  • Professor Gibin Powathil (Swansea University)
  • Professor Mark Davies (SBUHB) 

Aligned programme of study: PhD in Mathematics

Mode of study: Full-time or part-time

Project description: 

Tumours are complex heterogeneous ecosystems, with a constantly evolving genetic composition. Exposure to a chemotherapy drug may eliminate sensitive subclones and select for resistant subclones, thus reshaping the composition of the tumour. Liquid biopsies, based on circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) shed from the primary tumour and metastatic sites, are a potential non-invasive means of tracking tumour heterogeneity and therapy response.   

In this project, we aim to develop a clinically relevant, data-driven, novel multiscale mathematical framework to study ctDNA dynamics, centred around a stochastic discrete description of mutational profiles within a tumour evolving in space and time. The rigorous mathematical description will be shaped by the integration of mathematical, biological, and clinical expertise and will allow us to link the spatiotemporal evolution of the tumour response under treatment (unknown in a clinical scenario), with the resulting ctDNA dynamics in the bloodstream (easily monitored in patients).   

This framework will enable monitoring of response and resistance, and early detection of relapse. Moreover, ctDNA dynamics could be used to guide treatment decisions during adaptive cancer therapy (ACT), with dosing and scheduling decisions informed by eco-evolutionary -guided principles. Namely, adjustments in drugs, dose and timing are made for each individual patient, in response to and in anticipation of tumour adaption. 


Candidates must hold an undergraduate degree at 2.1 level or master’s degree with a minimum overall grade at ‘Merit’ (or Non-UK equivalent as defined by Swansea University). If you are eligible to apply for the scholarship (i.e. a student who is eligible to pay the UK rate of tuition fees) but do not hold a UK degree, you can check our comparison entry requirements (see country specific qualifications). Please note that you may need to provide evidence of your English Language proficiency. 

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. 

If you have any questions regarding your academic or fee eligibility based on the above, please email with the web-link to the scholarship(s) you are interested in. 


This scholarship covers the full cost of UK tuition fees and an annual stipend of £18,622.

Additional research expenses will also be available. 

How to Apply

To apply, please complete your application online with the following information:

  1. Course choice – please select Mathematics / PhD / Full-time / 3 Year / April

    In the event you have already applied for the above programme previously, the application system may issue a warning notice and prevent application, in this event, please email where staff will be happy to assist you in submitting your application.

  2. Start year – please select 2024
  3. Funding (page 8) –
  • ‘Are you funding your studies yourself?’ – please select No
  • ‘Name of Individual or organisation providing funds for study’ – please enter ‘RS466 - Diagnosis & Therapy’

*It is the responsibility of the applicant to list the above information accurately when applying, please note that applications received without the above information listed will not be considered for the scholarship award.

One application is required per individual Swansea University led research scholarship award; applications cannot be considered listing multiple Swansea University led research scholarship awards.

We encourage you to complete the following to support our commitment to providing an environment free of discrimination and celebrating diversity at Swansea University: 

As part of your online application, you MUST upload the following documents (please do not send these via email):

  • CV
  • Degree certificates and transcripts (if you are currently studying for a degree, screenshots of your grades to date are sufficient)
  • A cover letter including a ‘Supplementary Personal Statement’ to explain why the position particularly matches your skills and experience and how you choose to develop the project.
  • Two references (academic or previous employer) on headed paper or using the Swansea University reference form. Please note that we are not able to accept references received citing private email accounts, e.g. Hotmail. Referees should cite their employment email address for verification of reference.
  • Evidence of meeting English Language requirement (if applicable).
  • Copy of UK resident visa (if applicable)
  • Confirmation of EDI form submission (optional) 

Informal enquiries are welcome, please contact Dr Noemi Picco (

*External Partner Application Data Sharing – Please note that as part of the scholarship application selection process, application data sharing may occur with external partners outside of the University, when joint/co- funding of a scholarship project is applicable.