2020 applicants
Postgraduate Research Opportunity

Engineering biological soft microrobots for the treatment of cancer


Title: SCH32: Engineering biological soft microrobots for the treatment of cancer

Funding: A full Home/EU fee waiver or equivalent fee discount for overseas students  (£5,103 in 2020-21) (further fee details - international students will need to pay the balance of their fees) plus a doctoral stipend equivalent to the RCUK Minimum Doctoral Stipend (£15,285 in 2020-21).

Application deadline: Tuesday 31 March 2020

Start date: October 2020

Duration: 3 years (full time)

Location: Colchester Campus

Based in: School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering (in collaboration with School of Life Sciences)

This opportunity is now closed. View our open opportunities.

The project

We will integrate microrobotics (CSEE) with stem cell and cancer biology (Life Sciences) to develop a novel microrobotics platform for efficient and effective delivery of therapeutic mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).

These MSCs will be genetically modified to express an anti-cancer protein known as TRAIL that induces cancer cell death, leaving normal tissues unaffected. While delivery of TRAIL with MSCs is functional and leads to tumour regression and remission, as we have already shown in several tumour models, increasing the delivery to tumour tissues holds the potential to further enhance the therapeutic benefits.

We will address this objective by transforming the therapeutic MSCs into soft microrobots. This will be achieved by loading TRAIL-expressing MSCs with magnetic nanoparticles allowing guidance with an external magnetic field. This electromagnetic steering system, we have previously developed and published, can increase the concentration of microrobots in locations of interests.

The dynamic magnetic actuation will be used for steering the microrobots. The discrete element method (DEM)-based computational platform we previously introduced, will be modified to include diverse motion modes for feedforward steering.

Furthermore, to show proof of concepts in feedback swarm control of microrobots, we will be using an optical camera integrated with actuation system.


The award consists of a full Home/EU fee waiver or equivalent fee discount for overseas students (further fee details), a doctoral stipend equivalent to the Research Councils UK National Minimum Doctoral Stipend (£15,285 in 2020-21), plus £2,500 training bursary via Proficio funding, which may be used to cover the cost of advanced skills training including conference attendance and travel.


We are looking for applicants with an MSc or BSc in Mechatronics, Medical Robotics, Biomedical Engineering or related subject areas.

How to apply

You can apply for this postgraduate research opportunity online.

Please include your CV, covering letter, personal statement, and transcripts of UG and Masters degrees in your application.

The University has moved to requiring only one reference for PhD applications and these can be received after a conditional offer has been made so the absence of these will not hold up the recruitment process.

Instruction to applicants

When you apply online you will be prompted to fill out several boxes in the form:

  • For "Course title" please put "Electronic Systems Engineering", tick "postgraduate research" and hit "search". This will bring up a list of matching courses, select the one marked "full time" and "PhD".
  • For "Proposed research topic or area of research" please put the title of this studentship (SCH32: Engineering biological soft microrobots for the treatment of cancer)
  • For "If you have contacted a potential supervisor..." please put the name of the lead supervisor (Dr Ali Kafash Hoshiar)

If you have any informal queries about this opportunity please email the lead supervisor, Dr Ali Kafash Hoshiar (a.kafashhoshiar@essex.ac.uk)

You can find the terms and conditions of this studentship here (PDF).

Student and academic working at a board together
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