PhD Projects

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The Health & Wellbeing Academy is a joint initiative with South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT) and Anglia Ruskin University's Postgraduate Medical Institute (PMI). Our aim is to bring together teams of researchers who are committed to practical, real-world research into health and wellbeing that will provide information to influence clinical practice and policy at a local, national and international level.  We are working on the understanding and development of the cutting-edge technologies used in modern medicine. Our research theme leaders are Prof Richard Aspinall, Prof Selim Cellek and Dr Dingchang Zheng.

Professor Richard Aspinall

PhD project proposals

  1. Design and fabrication of a diagnostic device for the identification of CXCL12 in urine of patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis

This is a proof of principle project to determine whether the presence of increased amounts of the chemokine CXCL12 in the urine is specific for patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis and then to determine whether variations in the quantity of this chemokine correlate to the disease severity.

  1. Design and fabrication of a device to measure respiratory rate and blood oxygenation levels

The project will involve the design, build and test of a prototype which uses a tri-axis accelerometer to measure motion and a reflective optical sensor to determine respiration rate and blood oxygenation and then include a trial to determine whether this can effectively determine disease status in known respiratory diseases.

  1. Differentiation of CD34+ cells in a model thymus

This project will explore whether CD34+ cells derived from the blood of individuals at different ages or derived from induced pluripotential stem cells can differentiate efficiently within a laboratory model of a human thymus.  

  1. Identification of the role of a small molecule inhibitor of IL-7 in the signal transduction pathway

This project will involve the detailed analysis of the effect of the small molecule inhibitor AI127 on the downstream signalling pathway following engagement of the IL-7 receptor.   

  1. Identification of the response to human herpes virus 6

This project will involve the development of research tools (ELISPot assays, tetramers) to identify the immune response to HHV6a and HHV6b in individuals of different ages and correlate the response to immune status. 

Prof Selim Cellek

  1. Development of axonal guidance chambers for high throughput drug screening.


Drug Screening

There is an unmet need to develop cell-based assay technologies that can guide axonal growth in high throughput format. Our aim is therefore to develop a chamber in a multi-well well format that will enable axonal guidance in a platform amenable for high throughput drug screening. It is envisaged that the project will result in a new method that will enable scientists to study nerve biology and to discover new medicines for the treatment of motor neuron diseases, spinal cord injury and neurodegenerative disorders.


  1. Development of phenotypic assays for high throughput drug screening


Phenotypic screening

Phenotypic screening assays which identify compounds that produce a specific biological response have the ability to find the medicines of the future more rapidly and effectively than target-based screening approach. By addressing infamous problems such as cell penetration and interference from compensatory pathways at early stages, phenotypic screening has produced more approved drugs than target-based screening. We are developing several phenotypic assays suitable for compound screening in medium or high throughput formats. Some of our assays are targeting diseases with high unmet need such as fibroproliferative disorders (e.g. idiopathic lung fibrosis, liver fibrosis), neurodegenerative diseases, auto-immune diseases and cancer.


  1. Understanding the pathophysiology of Peyronie’s disease

Peyronie’s disease is a fibrotic disease of the penis which can cause pain and erectile dysfunction. Currently surgery is the only treatment. We are working with our urologist colleagues in London to further our understanding in cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in this pathology in order to develop novel therapeutic approaches.


  1. Understanding the role of vasa nervorum in urogenital diseases

Vasa nervorum are small diameter (20-200 micron) diameter blood vessels that supply blood to main nerve trunks and neuronal ganglia/plexi. In the recent years, the role of vasa nervorum in pathophysiology of several diseases such as diabetic neuropathy, erectile dysfunction and benign prostatic hyperplasia have been highlighted. We are working towards to further our understanding of how these blood vessels are innervated, how their tones are regulated and their relationship with capillaries.


Dr Dingchang Zheng


Dr Zheng’s research projects require working across multidisciplinary with other engineers, physical scientists, biologists, clinicians, industry, policy makers, and allied professionals at different stages along the development pathway. It will lead to high quality publications and patentable medical devices, and generate huge clinical potential for the early diagnosis of disease and significant academic, economic and societal impacts.

Dr Zheng has particular interests in the research, development and evaluation of novel procedures, medical techniques and devices for the benefit of patients suffering from heart disease or circulatory problems.

Physiological research: Cardiac haemodynamics from in vivo and in vitro measurements

Engineering Research
  1. Physiological research: Cardiac haemodynamics from in vivo and in vitro measurements

(a)   Investigate the effect of physiological causes on the variability of physiological measurements 

(b)   Link in vivo and in vitro examinations of vascular (human and animal) function and structure

(c)    Investigate the mechanical principle of the heart and its relationship to the peripheral circulation by quantitatively linking cardiac imaging data (valve movement and blood flow from MRI or echocardiography) and simultaneous physiological measurements (cardiac electrical activity, thoracic impedance, and peripheral pulse)


  1. Engineering research: Intelligent patient monitoring, signal processing, cardiovascular modelling.

(a)   Physical models and computer simulations: Using physical models and computer simulations to understand the fundamental principles of variability in physiological measurements

(b)   Physiological signal processing: Develop intelligent algorithms to identify reliable physiological recording, including ECG, arterial pressures, oscillometric pulse waveforms, and blood flow, etc.

(c)    Cardiovascular system modelling: Develop mathematical models to understand the mechanistic causes of physiological variability as a function of altered interplay between cardiovascular subsystems (including the heart, neuronal inputs and the respiratory system).


  1. Translational research: Develop novel clinical measurements and diagnostic techniques and devices for the benefit of patients suffering from heart disease or circulatory problems


(a)   Arterial function assessment: Develop novel techniques to measure reliable arterial compliance

(b)   Blood pressure measurement: Develop different strategies for accurate and reliable blood pressure measurements on different clinical groups

(c)    Impedance measurement: Develop reliable cardiac impedance measurement techniques for clinical use

(d)   Cardiovascular monitoring devices for homecare and telemedicine

  1. Clinical research: Technique comparison and assessment
Technique chart

(a)   Compare the performance of existing cardiovascular measurement techniques for clinical use

(b)   Investigate the measurement reliability and repeatability of the novel techniques to be developed

(c)    Investigate the effect of different clinical conditions (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and vascular diseases etc), lifestyle changes and manoeuvres (deep breathing, hand cooling and cuff inflation to induce dilatation on release, etc.) on cardiovascular haemodynamics