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Funded PhD Opportunity

Development of hollow microneedle arrays for transdermal biosensing and drug delivery

Subject: Engineering


Interest in microneedle technologies has blossomed in recent years, boasting numerous advantages over more conventional routes of administration such as improved patient compliance, painless insertion, and bypassing first pass hepatic metabolism. Furthermore, they hold the potential for delivering a diverse range of therapeutic agents, with significant scope for customisation. Low-cost, rapid fabrication and prototyping techniques have allowed what was once a complex manufacturing challenge, to move from highly specialised research environments into more accessible domains such as undergraduate laboratories, as well as mainstream medical and beauty products. These applications largely rely on the use of solid microneedle arrays, however the inclusion of a hollow microchannel brings with it significant flexibility in terms of both design and functionality.

The possibilities are considerable, and proffer the opportunity to deliver skin-impermeant compounds as well as the potential for extraction of interstitial fluid to enable real-time sampling, whilst retaining the benefits of the microneedle approach. Recent advances in digital micromirror devices (DMD), a type of micro-opto-electromechanical system (MOEMS), has brought with it significant improvements in the resolution of digital light processing (DLP) technologies.

Consisting of a rectangular array of microscopic mirrors, often hundreds of thousands of them, a DMD chip enables each mirror to be addressed and rotated individually, each corresponding to a particular pixel. The degree of rotation, typically ±10-12 °, determines the on or off state, with light being reflected onto a lens to appear bright in the on state, and reflected elsewhere (often onto a heatsink) during the off state, appearing dark by comparison.

Although commonly used in multimedia projectors, the technology has been exploited by those developing ultra high resolution 3D printing systems, capable of polymerising photocurable resins to produce features less than 20 microns in size and several microns in thickness. The fabrication of hollow microneedle arrays through the use of cutting edge additive manufacturing techniques has been demonstrated, providing scope for further investigation and design optimisation.

The candidate will be involved in the design, development and subsequent characterisation of hollow microneedle arrays and accompanying electrochemical biosensors. Additionally, a mechanism by which fluid can be drawn up through the array will be explored and investigated experimentally. The aim of the project is to move towards an all-in-one ‘smart patch’ system, utilising a feedback loop.

This approach has the potential to enable the administration of therapeutic compounds in response to biomarker detection, and thus the ability to enact complex delivery profiles. The project will necessitate the use of high resolution imaging techniques such as scanning electron microscopy and X-ray computed microtomography, as well as various spectroscopy based analytical techniques. Researchers will have access to a range of state-of-the-art fabrication equipment and analytical facilities, offering the potential to develop novel drug delivery and biosensing prototypes.

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 18 February 2019

Interview Date
March 2019


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Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact supervisor

Dr Aaron McConville

Other supervisors

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