Photoacoustic imaging for the optimisation of CAR-T cell cancer therapy of soft-tissue tumours – reporter-gene studies

This is an exciting multidisciplinary convergence-science project involving development of a novel non-invasive imaging approach for cell tracking in vivo and will require the use of biological techniques applied in gene transduction as well as inventive applications of photoacoustic imaging.

Start date
1 July 2021
4 years
Application deadline
Funding source
This opportunity is funded by the University of Surrey (50%) and the Institute of Cancer Research (50%).
Funding information

Stipend of £19,000 p.a.


This multidisciplinary project aims to develop photoacoustic imaging techniques for the optimisation of CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell cancer therapy. This is an emerging treatment technique, approved for cancer patients in 2018 and expected to  enable major advancements  in personalised medicine. It involves removal of the patient’s T cells from the blood, their genetic modification, and re-infusion of the cells back into the patient. More than 800 CAR-T cell therapies are being investigated in clinical trials. Preclinical assessment of the efficacy, pharmacokinetic profile and toxicity profile of CAR-T cells is of critical importance in the development of such therapies, prior to clinical trials.

This project aims to develop and evaluate the use of photoacoustic imaging for determining the biodistribution of the CAR-T cells in vivo. Photoacoustic imaging is an exciting biomedical imaging method which employs an ultrasound scanner in combination with a pulsed laser to create high-resolution 3D images of the optical properties of tissues and cells. The project objectives include screen reporter gene/cell-line combinations for best photoacoustic detectability; use selected reporter genes and tumour models to determine sensitivities and linearities for detectability in vivo; determine whether photoacoustic reporter alters treatment; explore in vivo the application of photoacoustic reporter-gene imaging for dynamic assessment of CAR-T cell numbers as they penetrate tumours; evaluate whether photoacoustic reporter gene imaging has potential for predicting treatment efficacy.

The student will be registered at the Institute of Cancer Research and carry work in collaboration with the University of Surrey, and at least three months will be spent at the National Physical Laboratory.  Further technical advice will come from iThera Medical. Training on imaging techniques and cell-culture preparation will be provided.


Related links
Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing postgraduate research PhD studentship projects 2021 at the Institute of Cancer Research

Eligibility criteria

All applicants should have (or expect to obtain) a first-class degree in a numerate discipline (mathematics, science or engineering) or MSc with Distinction (or 70% average) and a strong interest in pursuing research in this field.

Additional experience which is relevant to the area of research is also advantageous, especially a demonstrated capability or interest in convergence research that spans the physical, engineering and biological sciences.

This studentship is only available to UK students. 

IELTS requirements: For non UK based courses an English requirement of 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category.

How to apply

Applications must be made via the student recruitment system of the Institute of Cancer Research. For full details on how to apply, visit the how to apply for PhD studentships page

Application deadline

Contact details

For application enquiries, please contact:

Nan Bennett,


Studentships at Surrey

We have a wide range of studentship opportunities available.