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Funded PhD Opportunity

Design and development of functionally graded tissue-like substitutes via 3D bioprinting technology

Subject: Engineering


Globally, it is estimated that about 300 million people suffer from osteoarthritis (OA), which is the most common type of arthritis. OA is the main cause of permanent disability and the third cause of temporary workplace incapacity. Clinically, it manifests as a loss of the articular surface in synovial joints; however, as it progresses the subchondral bone is more obviously involved, creating an osteochondral (OC) disease pattern. The causes associated to OC defects are different, and they can vary from traumatic injuries to natural degeneration of the cartilaginous tissue. In recent years, biphasic tissue-like substitutes, produced by conventional technologies have been investigated as an alternative to traditional reconstruction procedures (autografts transplantation, subchondral drilling and autologous chondrocyte implantation).

Although these 3D substitutes have shown various degrees of experimental success, indicating great potential for development as treatment options, they still present several shortcomings. Particularly, the issues of layer separation, less accurate 3D structure at the tissue’s interface, as well as incomplete integration in situ are limiting their application.

These challenges form the focus of this project, which aims to design and develop a tissue engineering strategy (as novel OA treatment opportunity) able to mimic the multilayered nature of OC tissue in its integrity and function, as well as the biomimetic properties at the cartilage/bone interface. The combination of different biomaterials, from ceramics to polymers, and functionalisation methods at the nanoscale (i.e plasma treatments and layer-by-layer self assembly) will be investigated. Also, the development of novel bioinks, based on cell-laden hydrogels, will be explored in conjunction with a 3D-bioprinting manufacturing technology. This will allow the production of seamless, patient-specific, and cost-effective strategies.

Architectural properties and bio-functionality at micro- and nano-scale of human tissues are the hurdles that my research team is currently addressing. Importantly, our laboratory has a wealth of experience in the generation of novel biomaterial formulations, their processing by using the most recent additive manufacturing technologies, as well as surface functionalisation and characterisation techniques.

A wide range of methods are required for this study, including: 3D CAD design, biomaterial processing, additive manufacturing, functionalisation methods, mechanical and physico-chemical characterisation, and biological in vitro assessment. This will provide excellent training in a wide variety of important research techniques.

Essential criteria:

- Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree in one of the following Engineering disciplines: Mechanical, Biomedical or Chemical Engineering;

- Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain.

Related references:

1. Daly, A.C., Freeman, F.E., Gonzalez-Fernandez, T., Critchley, S.E., Nulty, J., Kelly, D.J., 2017. 3D Bioprinting for Cartilage and Osteochondral Tissue Engineering. Advanced Healthcare Materials 6, 1700298.

2. Scaffaro, R., Lopresti, F., Maio, A., Sutera, F., Botta, L., 2017. Development of Polymeric Functionally Graded Scaffolds: A Brief Review. Journal of Applied Biomaterials & Functional Materials 15, 107–121.

3. Monzón, M., Liu, C., Ajami, S., Oliveira, M., Donate, R., Ribeiro, V., Reis, R.L., 2018. Functionally graded additive manufacturing to achieve functionality specifications of osteochondral scaffolds. Bio-Design and Manufacturing 1, 69–75.

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


Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact supervisor

Dr Elena Mancuso

Other supervisors


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