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.
- 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.
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.
- To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:
Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)
Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.
Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)
Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.
Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)
Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.
Department for the Economy (DFE)
The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.
Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies