Low temperature non-equilibrium plasmas have recently demonstrated remarkable potential for treatment of cancer and other diseases such as antibiotic resistant infections. By overcoming the challenges inherent in controlling a plasma in contact with liquid, we can draw on the many advantages that such an interaction can bring. In particular low energy plasma-liquid systems can generate large quantities of reactive oxygen species, e.g. the hydroxyl radical (OH) that are normally delivered by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Plasma-liquid systems are highly complex and current research is undertaken on a number of strata including fundamental physical chemical reactions, biomolecule interactions, cell and tissue studies and ultimately in vivo studies on appropriate disease targets. All plasma approaches to date are limited to superficial cancers, e.g. mouth and skin, and wounds. The potential for using such plasmas for treatment inside the body are fraught with difficulty due to the high electric fields and currents required and the presence of UV and possibly elevated gas temperatures.

In NIBEC we have developed a radically new approach called Droplet In Plasma (DiP) whereby the plasma itself is kept well away from the target tissue. Instead we pass a stream of liquid microdroplets through the plasma. These become activated with e.g. OH radicals which can be transported very quickly to the target, in a matter of milliseconds, before the reactivity decays. We have published our results in high impact journals, e.g. Nano Letters. We have demonstrated the efficacy of these droplets in killing bacteria from a long distance (> 10 cm) away. The next stage requires investigation directly relevant to in-vivo cancer treatment, namely what are the optimal conditions for generating the appropriate reactive chemistry, how this chemistry effects the biological targets and how does efficacy change with distance.

This interdisciplinary partnership between NIBEC and Biomedical Sciences provides a valuable opportunity to bring together our plasma and biological expertise towards a shared goal of advancing the translation to viable plasma treatment. In particular, this partnership offers the student the opportunity to study the effect of our DiP system on damage to amino acids and DNA, using HPLC and mass spectrometry complemented with other techniques such as RAMAN/FTIR. However, we have the exciting possibility of studying more advanced targets in the HIF (hypoxia inducible factor) using 3D bio-printed in-vitro models derived under hypoxic condition.

Finally, we intend to test our plasma in murine models of inflammation associated cancer. Tentative evidence to date suggests plasma exposure can affect cell signalling and promote an immunogenic response leading to immunogenic cell death (ICD). In this project, the histological evaluation of immune response coupled with quantitative knowledge of OH (and other) radical fluxes would lead to a significant advance and we would expect to achieve publication in high impact factor scientific journals.

Essential criteria

  • 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.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed

    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:

    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:

The Doctoral College at Ulster University