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Funded PhD Opportunity

Development of novel smart scaffolds as potential strategies for skin wound healing

Subject: Engineering


Many of the major functions in cells and organs of the human body are controlled by electrical signals (i.e nerve repair, bone formation and wound healing). In recent years, the potential for harnessing electric signals in modulating cell growth, proliferation and differentiation has inspired the development of several electroactive biomaterials. Electroactive polymers (EAPs) are polymers that undergo shape and/or dimensional change in response to an applied electrical field. The interest in EAPs is increased because these “smart materials” have the potential to serve as unique candidates for developing tissue-like scaffolds capable of directing cell fate and promoting tissue healing.

However, most of the current EAPs-based scaffolds are not appropriate for tissue regeneration, mainly because they require external power source or additional surface electrodes for conducting electrical stimulation. Hence, the development of novel EAPs with improved adaptability to the specific tissue is of paramount importance. Among the diverse applications in the biomedical field, the use of EAPs as skin dressings is a field of pressing need. Primarily because chronic non-healing wounds represent one of the most crucial and unmet healthcare problem.

Only in the UK, 2.2 million patients suffer from chronic wounds (such as diabetic foot ulcers, venous leg ulcers and pressure ulcers), which lead to an annual cost of ~£6 billion. At present, wound care treatments are strongly diversified: dressings, wound closure products, interventional wound healing, and also emerging therapies based on fibrous skin-like substitutes. However, the findings that 43% of wounds do not heal within a year highlight that current treatments are ineffective in a significant sub-population of patients, representing an unmet need.

With a view towards the new generation of EAP-based materials, this proposal aims to design and develop a smart scaffold able to promote skin wound healing. Such device will be based on a blend of two different polymers, of which at least one is an EAP, and it will be produced via electrospinning technology.

With respect to conventional scaffolds, this novel system will provide additional clues to stimulate suitable biological cell activities and supporting the development of suitable microenvironments for wound healing applications. A wide range of methods will be required to achieve the final aim of this multidisciplinary study, including: biomaterial synthesis, electrospinning technology, mechanical and physico-chemical characterisation, conductivity testing, 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, Electronic, Biomedical or Chemical Engineering;

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

Related references:

1. Balint, R., Cassidy, N.J., Cartmell, S.H., 2014. Conductive polymers: Towards a smart biomaterial for tissue engineering. Acta Biomaterialia 10, 2341–2353.

2. Ning, C., Zhou, Z., Tan, G., Zhu, Y., Mao, C., 2018. Electroactive polymers for tissue regeneration: Developments and perspectives. Progress in Polymer Science 81, 144–162.

3. Rajabi, A.H., Jaffe, M., Arinzeh, T.L., 2015. Piezoelectric materials for tissue regeneration: A review. Acta Biomaterialia 24, 12–23.

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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