Selective capture of cancer cells in biological fluids
The proposed project aims to investigate the use of surface molecular imprinting for the selective capture of circulating cancer cells in biological fluids. This interdisciplinary project will address the need for a technique able to capture cancer cells without destroying them, enabling their subsequent molecular characterisation and identification. Such materials will offer enhanced diagnostic power compared to existing analytical techniques and enable rapid detection of metastasis in cancer patients. Molecular Imprinting is a technique for the generation of specific binding sites within matrix of a synthetic polymer by co-polymerisation of appropriate functional monomers in the presence of a template mould. These sites possess three-dimensional complementarity towards the used template in terms of size, shape and functional group orientation. Such “plastic antibody” materials have been used in the recognition of small molecules such as pharmaceuticals, vitamins and environmental pollutants but also larger structures such as peptides and proteins.
In this project we wish to extend the use of imprinted polymers to the surface recognition of whole cells, in particular circulating cancer cells. This will be achieved by employing a “foot-printing” approach whereby cancer cells will be stamped on the soft surface of a polymer layer, leaving imprints complementary to the size and shape of the target cells. Following polymer curing and template removal, these surfaces should be able to selectively pre-concentrate the target cells from large volumes of biological fluids such as whole blood samples. Using biocompatible polymers, we aim to preserve the viability of the captured cells, so that subsequent culture and molecular identification of the cells is possible. On a second level, we aim to target specific chemical functionality on the cancer cell surface in order to achieve higher specificity and combine the cell capture with electrochemical or mass sensitive detection for near real-time cancer cell monitoring.
The School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering aims to promote sustainable processes and materials to meet the energy and healthcare demands of the future. The School is expanding rapidly and this is creating many new and exciting research opportunities with over £15m being invested to develop and expand the core research areas of catalysis, biological and medicinal chemistry, and materials.
Mode of study / duration
Registration is on a full-time or part-time basis, under the direction of a supervisory team appointed by the University. You will be expected to submit your thesis at the end of three years of full-time registration for PhD, or two years for MPhil (or part-time equivalent).
QUB is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s 24 leading research-intensive universities.
- QUB is joint 1st in the UK for Research Intensity for Chemistry (Complete University Guide 2021)
- QUB has been placed joint 8th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014/ Times Higher Education)
- QUB is ranked in the top 25 universities in the world for international joint publications (U-Multirank 2020)
- QUB is ranked 43 in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021
Much of our research falls under the broad headings of Healthcare and Sustainability, examples of recent funded projects include development of novel antibiotics and reduction of single use plastics. The School also leads the EU-funded Bryden Centre for renewable energy research, the industry-led Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE) as well as our world-leading QUILL ionic liquids research centre. Students trained in our School are equipped with the skills that allow them to go out and make a real difference in the world.
Our areas of interest include adventurous research at the cutting edge of catalysis (where chemistry meets other disciplines, especially engineering, innovative Molecular Materials and Functional Materials), ionic liquid technology (‘super solvents' which do not form vapours and can be used as non-polluting alternatives to conventional solvents) and Synthesis and Biological Organic Chemistry (working to deliver compounds addressing the regulation of cellular functions).
QUILL (Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories): the largest multidisciplinary research group in the world centred on ionic liquid technology, whose work on ‘super solvents' (which do not form vapours and can be used as non-polluting alternatives to conventional solvents) was voted ‘Most Important British Innovation of the 21st Century' in 2013.
All of our research groups have significant links with researchers and other institutions globally, and there are opportunities for collaboration and study visits, etc.
We have extensive links with industry, meaning that employment prospects for our graduates are excellent.
Much of our research is interdisciplinary, and our students can broaden their experience and knowledge by working with researchers from other disciplines (eg biologists, physicists).
For further information on career opportunities at PhD level please contact the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Student Recruitment Team on askEPS@qub.ac.uk. Our advisors - in consultation with the School - will be happy to provide further information on your research area, possible career prospects and your research application.
People teaching you
Dr Mark Muldoon
Director of Postgraduates
The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research degree programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School.
For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.
English Language Requirements
Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.0, with not less than 5.5 in any component, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required (*taken within the last 2 years).
International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.
For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see: www.qub.ac.uk/EnglishLanguageReqs.
If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.
|Northern Ireland (NI) 1||£4,596|
|Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2||£4,596|
|England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1||£4,596|
|EU Other 3||£22,700|
1 EU citizens in the EU Settlement Scheme, with settled or pre-settled status, are expected to be charged the NI or GB tuition fee based on where they are ordinarily resident, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly Student Fees Regulations. Students who are ROI nationals resident in GB are expected to be charged the GB fee, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.
2 It is expected that EU students who are ROI nationals resident in ROI will be eligible for NI tuition fees, in line with the Common Travel Agreement arrangements. The tuition fee set out above is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.
3 EU Other students (excludes Republic of Ireland nationals living in GB, NI or ROI) are charged tuition fees in line with international fees.
All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2021-22, and relate to a single year of study unless stated otherwise. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Additional course costs
Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies . Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.
Some research programmes incur an additional annual charge on top of the tuition fees, often referred to as a bench fee. Bench fees are charged when a programme (or a specific project) incurs extra costs such as those involved with specialist laboratory or field work. If you are required to pay bench fees they will be detailed on your offer letter. If you have any questions about Bench Fees these should be raised with your School at the application stage. Please note that, if you are being funded you will need to ensure your sponsor is aware of and has agreed to fund these additional costs before accepting your place.
How do I fund my study?1.PhD Opportunities
Find PhD opportunities and funded studentships by subject area.2.Funded Doctoral Training Programmes
We offer numerous opportunities for funded doctoral study in a world-class research environment. Our centres and partnerships, aim to seek out and nurture outstanding postgraduate research students, and provide targeted training and skills development.3.PhD loans
The Government offers doctoral loans of up to £26,445 for PhDs and equivalent postgraduate research programmes for English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students.4.International Scholarships
Information on Postgraduate Research scholarships for international students.
Funding and Scholarships
The Funding & Scholarship Finder helps prospective and current students find funding to help cover costs towards a whole range of study related expenses.
How to Apply
Find a supervisor
If you're interested in a particular project, we suggest you contact the relevant academic before you apply, to introduce yourself and ask questions.
To find a potential supervisor aligned with your area of interest, or if you are unsure of who to contact, look through the staff profiles linked here.
You might be asked to provide a short outline of your proposal to help us identify potential supervisors.