PhD Studentship: Develop nanocomposite materials for extraction of cell free DNA

Department of Clinical Neurosciences

University of Cambridge, Trinity Ln, Cambridge, UK


  • Posted on: 12th Nov 2021
  • Funding amount: Funding Available
  • Funding for: EU Students, International Students, UK Students
  • REF: ZE28991
  • Closes: 31st December 2021
  • Hours: Full Time


Dr Richard Mair (

Dr Ljiljana Fruk (

This is a unique and exciting opportunity for PhD study under the joint supervision of Dr Richard Mair (Department of Clinical Neuroscience) and Dr Ljiljana Fruk (Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology). The successful applicant’s study will overlap with the interests of both research groups and they will be expected to work between both groups while being part of vibrant and exciting Cambridge community of researchers.

Dr Richard Mair and Dr Ljiljana Fruk wish to recruit a student to work on a project to develop nanocomposite materials for extraction of cell free DNA (funded by the W.D. Armstrong Trust).

Project description

Cell-free DNA (cfDNA) comprises DNA of multiple fragment sizes and is found in most body fluids. In cancer patients, DNA fragments carrying genetic alterations indicative of the primary tumour have been identified in the circulation providing ‘non-invasive’ biomarkers (or ‘liquid biopsies’) for tumour diagnosis, treatment planning and subsequent treatment monitoring. Alternate methods of cfDNA analysis (e.g using DNA methylation) have provided novel methods for monitoring non-neoplastic disease such as stroke and traumatic brain injury as well as cancer.

This project aims to combine physical and affinity approaches with the design of novel nanocomposite materials capable of binding short cfDNA fragments from biofluids and in such a way enable extraction of improved amounts of DNA fragments for subsequent analysis. The explored strategy will involve design of porous scaffolds using cellulose and chitosan biopolymers, use of modified magnetic nanoparticles to enable selective binding and formulation of devices for extraction of DNA from larger volumes. This project brings together expertise in material design and nanostructuring (Dr Fruk) with genetic / epigenetic expertise (Dr Mair). It aims to deliver a functional prototype of a device within the duration of the studentship. There are numerous possibilities to collaborate with industry as well as with researchers within Cambridge and beyond.

Preferred skills/knowledge of applicants:Applicants for the studentship should have a First Class (or a high 2:1) degree in a relevant discipline such as chemistry, chemical engineering and material science. A background in chemical synthesis/material preparation and strong interest in interdisciplinary work are required. No experience in working with DNA is needed and all the necessary training in biological/medical and engineering aspect of the project will be provided.

Funding:This studentship is available to fund 3.5 years of PhD study under the Armstrong Studentship Scheme of the University of Cambridge. W.D. Armstrong Trust funded studentship includes full funding for University and College fees and a stipend for 3.5 years of study. The funding is available to start in January 2022 and we would like the successful applicant to commence study as soon as possible after this date. Please apply to commence study in Easter Term 2022 (mid-April 2022).

Eligibility:Only Home/UK resident students are fully funded, while EU/Overseas students need to submit the proof of additional funding to cover the fee difference:

How to apply:Please apply using the University Applicant Portal. For further information about the course and to access the applicant portal, go to:

Please select to commence study in Easter term 2022 (mid-April 2022).

To complete your on-line application, you need to provide the following:

Reference Request: The names and contact details of two academic referees who have agreed to act on your behalf.

Course Specific Question: Your statement of interest (limit of 2,500 characters) should explain why you wish to be considered for the studentship and which qualities and experience you will bring to the role. Please also state how you learned of the studentship.

Supporting Document: Please upload your CV (PDF file), which should include a list of the examinations taken at undergraduate level and if possible, your examination results.

There is an application fee of £75.00 to apply which is not refundable.

DeadlineThe closing date for applications is 31 December 2021 with interviews expected to take place as soon as possible after the application deadline. Any queries re the application process please contact Shannon Tinley-Browne on .

Please quote reference ZE28991 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The University actively supports equality, diversity and inclusion and encourages applications from all sections of society.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.

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