PhD Student

Last application date
Aug 15, 2020 14:28
Department
TW06 - Department of Electronics and information systems
Employment category
Doctoral fellow
Contract
Limited duration
Degree
Master in physics, photonics, electronic or biomedical engineering, or master in physics
Occupancy rate
100%
Vacancy Type
Research staff

Job description

Vacancy for a PhD candidate at Ghent University

“Electrophoresis of nucleic acids for the improvement of cell transfection “

Promotor: Kristiaan Neyts, Liquid Crystals and Photonics Group, Faculty of Engineering

Co-promotor: Kevin Braeckmans, Laboratory for General Biochemistry and Physical Pharmacy

Nucleic acids such as DNA or RNA are used to modify biological cells, which is for instance of interest to increase the therapeutic potential of cell-based anti-cancer products. The artificial introduction of nucleic acids into living cells is called transfection. To deliver nucleic acids into living cells, transfection technologies are needed that help getting these large and charged molecules across the protective outer cell membrane. The group of Prof. Braeckmans has developed a new transfection method, called photoporation, that combines laser irradiation with photothermal nanoparticles to transiently permeabilize the cell membrane, allowing external molecules to diffuse through those pores and enter into the cells, as illustrated below. While photoporation has been successfully used to safely and efficiently deliver many different types of molecules into cells, the efficiency for very large nucleic acids like DNA and RNA is still limited and should be further improved

. The group of Prof. Neyts is specialized in electrophoresis, which is the motion of charged particles in a liquid, under influence of an electric field. Electronic paper displays are, for instance, based on this principle. But electrophoresis can also be exploited to move particles and molecules in water. The aim of this project is to combine electrophoretic transport of large nucleic acids with photoporation so as to enhance the influx of these molecules through the laser-induced membrane pores in cells. When successful this will contribute to further enhance the therapeutic efficiency of cell-based anti-cancer products.

The first objective of this PhD is the study of the motion of charged molecular agents under influence of an electric field. The transport of fluorescent molecules under the influence of short voltage pulses will be studied by fluorescence microscopy. By analyzing the motion of single molecules, the diffusion constant and the electrophoretic mobility can be estimated.

The second objective is the analysis of the dynamic electric field distribution in and around the living cell. When a voltage is applied between two electrodes, ions and charged molecules will flow in the water and inside the cell volume, while the cell membrane is acting as an electrical capacitor. The motion of charged species corresponds to an electrical current and this results in a change of the electric field distribution. Where the electrodes are in contact with water, Faradaic currents may be injected into the water. By designing experiments and constructing numerical simulations, we want to obtain a reliable model for the electrical behavior of this system.

The third objective is the design and evaluation of test devices for the combination of electrophoresis and photoporation. As photoporation requires laser irradiation, it will be important to minimize laser absorption in the electrodes and adjust the applied voltage and pulse energy to obtain successful transfection while keeping the cells alive.

We are looking for a candidate with a good understanding of electrical and optical processes and a strong interest in biological applications. The candidate will fabricate devices in the clean room in the Technology park, observe molecules in the devices with high-end microscopes, conduct electrical and optical experiments in the lab and make electrical simulations of the developed concepts. The experimental and simulation work will be carried out in the Liquid Crystals and Photonics group (prof. Neyts). Transfection experiments will be carried out in the Laboratory for General Biochemistry and Physical Pharmacy (group of Prof. Braeckmans) in collaboration with biomedical scientists.

This topic is a clear example of multidisciplinary work (involving two faculties) in a flexible and dynamic environment, under the supervision of two research and valorization oriented promotors. The candidate should have a strong background in physics, photonics and/or electrical engineering and an interest in both experimental work and numerical simulation. Biological or biomedical expertise is not required, but the candidate should be motivated to collaborate with scientists from those research fields.

Starting date: flexible, with a preference around September 1st, 2020

An initial contract for one year is offered, that can be prolonged to 4 years after positive evaluations.

Profile of the candidate

Early state researcher/ PhD student The candidate will fabricate devices in the clean room, carry out electrical measurements, make microscopy observations and do numerical simulations

How to apply

Submit your CV and a short letter of interest to.