The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Physical Sciences for Health (Sci-Phy CDT) recently underwent a midterm review by the EPSRC and is pleased to report that the centre was highly commended. EPSRC have recognised the strength of research and the excellent training provided by the centre, and we look forward to continuing to produce exciting research over the remaining duration of the grant. We are currently accepting applications from prospective students for entry in 2017 and 2018.

The Sci-Phy centre builds on the success of the previous CDT in the Physical Sciences of Imaging in the Biomedical Sciences (PSIBS) and the interdisciplinary networks established through that project. The scientific remit of the Sci-Phy centre addresses current challenges in healthcare and biomedical science:

  • Cardiovascular disease, the major killer of over 65’s in the UK
  • Ageing, a UK healthcare grand challenge
  • Trauma, the major killer of under 40s in the UK and over 65’s.

Students in the CDT complete a taught masters year, gaining foundational knowledge in biomedicine and relevant physical and computational techniques, and completing two short research projects before moving into the three-year PhD phase of the programme. Every project has is supervised by a physical, computational and biomedical scientist, ensuring that students benefit from a unique combination of skills and perspectives, and are able to make significant advancements which would not be possible within a single discipline. Although all projects must address a problem within one of the three themes our research spans many fields, including chemistry, microscopy, mass spectrometry, image analysis, and several more which are detailed here.

Students in the CDT value the opportunity to move across the boundaries of scientific disciplines through the training they receive in the first year – building on their physical science knowledge and allowing them to become competent biomedical researchers in addition.

Second year student Emma Metcalfe-Smith recently wrote a piece for the EPSRC guest blog on the transition from an undergraduate physics degree into the Sci-Phy programme. She notes some valuable lessons she has learnt already, including the importance of good communication, particularly emphasised when working with academics from different scientific fields; students in the CDT are particularly good communicators and supported in improving their skills in this field through training across all four years of the programme.

Research in the CDT is cutting edge and covers a number of different scientific areas. Several projects focus on the development of new biomaterials – aiming to improve wound healing by controlling collagen formation and developing bioactive cement for healing fractures; and developing methods to artificially grow cartilage for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Research in this area was recently published in Advanced Materials.

Students in the centre are also developing new diagnostic systems using a variety of techniques, for diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis using multi-spectral imaging and diffuse optical tomography (DOT), and for traumatic brain injury and prolonged disorders of consciousness.

We are also conducting research revealing the mechanisms involved in deep vein thrombosis with microfluidics, improving diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for trauma, along with many other fascinating projects.

Many of the projects in the centre have direct involvement from collaborators in industry, including leading names such as Cairn Research, Smith and Nephew, and AstraZeneca. Of note, the strength of the collaboration between the Sci-Phy centre and Cairn research was recognised recently when a project conducted by first year student Chris O’Shea was shortlisted for a Most Innovative Collaboration Award in the Enterprising Birmingham Innovation Competition. The project developed novel software solutions for analysis of fluorescence imaging data from a technique used in research into cardiovascular disease – the major killer of over 65’s in the UK. The technique has the potential to be much more widely applied but analysis of the experimental data is challenging, and it is hoped that these software solutions will allow researchers to more easily utilise optical mapping in their research, by removing the need for complex processing software to be custom produced by each lab using the technique.

The CDT leadership is always open to discussions with other academics or industry regarding the potential for future collaborations – please contact any of the operations team to discuss opportunities to get involved.