Integrated spectroscopic imaging and computational modelling approach for assessing skin penetration studentship

This project aims to apply advanced spectroscopic imaging, combined with computational modelling, for understanding how human takes up chemicals from the skin; the subject has wide applications in the areas of skin care, topical drug delivery and risk assessment of pollutants. The PhD student will be jointly trained in the University of Surrey and National Physical Laboratory, with additional support of Unilever thus substantial exposure to both fundamental research and industrial R&D.

Start date
1 October 2020
3 years
Application deadline
Funding source
NC3Rs Studentship grant to the University of Surrey (NC/T001720)
Funding information

The studentship will last for 3 years. It will cover the tuition fee in full, and provide a PhD stipend at the standard UKRI level (c. £15,000 per annum), as well as generous budget for training activities (workshops, conferences, etc.).


Skin penetration underpins the design, efficacy and risk assessment of many high-value products including topical and transdermal drugs, functional personal care products, amongst others. Given the ethical concerns with animal tests, this area is moving towards ex vivo / in vitro experimental studies using excised human skin samples. Nevertheless, current in vitro tests have limited capability in predicting in vivo results. To this end, computer (in silico) modelling has been recognised as a promising approach for in vitro – in vivo extrapolation. However, existing models have limited accuracy due to paucity of reliable and quantitative information concerning penetration pathways and penetrant distribution at the site of action in the skin. In addition, in vivo animal studies are still widespread in the pre-clinical stage of drug development. In silico models, if sufficiently accurate, have great promise to help optimise such experiments with potentially substantial reduction of animal use.

To address this challenge, we propose to apply advanced spectroscopic imaging, stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy, to in vitro assessment of skin penetration. SRS microscopy provides quantitative images with submicron spatial resolution. For the first time, direct measurement of penetration pathways and microscopic distribution of the chemical in the skin will be obtained, which we will use to improve existing in silico models. The integrated modelling-imaging toolkit will significantly improve the in vitro – in vivo extrapolation capability, delivering a more systematic approach for skin penetration assessment. Importantly, the toolkit will help better design and reduce in vivo animal experiments that cannot be completely replaced at present.

This studentship is open to all academically qualified candidates with no residence restrictions. The studentship will last for three years. It will cover the tuition fee and provide a PhD stipend at the standard UK Research Council rate (currently at about £15,000 per annum), as well as generous budget for training activities (workshops, conferences, etc.) -- training will provided to the successful candidate for this multi-disciplinary project. The student will be jointly supervised by Dr Tao Chen at University of Surrey and Dr Natalie Belsey at National Physical Laboratory.

Related links…

Eligibility criteria

This project is available to students of the UK, EU and overseas. Candidates must have:

  • A relevant degree (first or upper second) in engineering, physics, chemistry or mathematics.
  • Experience in, or capability to learn, experimental methods using spectroscopy and computer modelling.

A Master’s degree is not a pre-requisite but would be looked upon favourably.

Non-native speakers of English who did not study in an English speaking country will be required to have IELTS 6.5 or above.

How to apply

Students should apply through the Chemical and Process Engineering Research PhD programme. 

The application shall include:

  1. Cover letter (max 1 page) explaining your interest and suitability for the project.
  2. CV (max 2 pages).
  3. Published work such as journals and conference articles (if any).
  4. Copy of your academic transcripts.
  5. Copy of your MSc dissertation (if appropriate).
  6. Names and contact information of two referees.

If applicable, a copy of a valid IELTS certificate from the past two years.

*The successful student could start the studentship before the 1st of October. 

Any enquiries should be emailed to Dr Tao Chen. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in early March.

Contact details

Tao Chen
02 BC 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686593

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