Quantifying the impact of epidermal turnover on bioavailability of dermally absorbed chemicals

This project will study the bioavailability of dermally absorbed chemicals in collaborating with Syngenta, a global leader in agrochemicals and technologies.

We have flexibility to start the project in April or September 2023.

Start date

1 April 2023


3 years

Application deadline

Funding source

Industry & the University

Funding information

Tuition fee covered at the UK home rate, plus UKRI standard stipend (£17,668 for 2023-24), and consumable and training support for the research.


Dermal absorption is an important part of the regulatory framework on the safety of agrochemicals and other products. Epidermal turnover and skin shedding are known to reduce the bioavailability of chemicals absorbed into the skin; however, these processes cannot be observed on excised skin tissues used for in vitro dermal absorption tests. Consequently, existing regulations, based on such in vitro tests, do not explicitly consider the impact of epidermal turnover and may significantly overestimate the amount of chemicals becoming bioavailable.

Epidermal turnover rate has been well reported in the literature, and some early studies have used in silico modelling to assess the epidermal turnover process relative to chemical diffusion. Nevertheless, there lacks a method to translate the theoretical modelling and qualitative information into quantitative data that could be used to support risk assessment for specific chemicals. The intricacy between epidermal turnover, chemical binding to skin protein, and diffusion presents a challenge that requires an integration of more advanced in silico modelling and novel metrology.

This project aims to develop a method, combining computational modelling and in vitro dermal absorption tests further empowered by advanced stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy, to deliver improved understanding of the impact of epidermal turnover on bioavailability of dermally absorbed chemicals. The new method and new data will support improved and more realistic risk assessment and regulation of dermal absorption of agrochemicals. There will be opportunities to widen the impact of the work through University of Surrey and Syngenta partnerships with CropLife Europe and through publication of the findings in peer reviewed journals.

Training opportunities

By joining a multidisciplinary team, you will receive unique training opportunities. In addition to conducting novel research that is likely to lead to impactful outputs and tangible innovations, you will be mentored by the supervisory team to develop your own professional development plan, to identify training needs (e.g., communication and people skills, leadership and management, etc.), and to prepare for your next stage of career in either academia or industry -- we are proud of having successfully helped numerous early-career researchers through this journey.

Eligibility criteria

Open to any UK or international candidates. Up to 30% of our UKRI funded studentships can be awarded to candidates paying international rate fees.

The ideal candidates should hold a good undergraduate degree with significant experiences in, or exposure to, computation, data analytics, mathematical modelling and/or analytical chemistry, through lab work and/or final year research project, etc. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of the project, we welcome applicants from diverse subject background in chemical engineering, chemistry, physics, applied mathematics, amongst others.

We expect the successful candidate to be a quick learner, have the ability to critically analyse existing data and own results, and have strong communication skills to be able to work in a collaborative environment.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the PhD Chemical and Process Engineering Research. In place of a research proposal you should upload a document stating the title of the project that you wish to apply for and the name of the relevant supervisor.

In parallel to submitting a standard application above, please email your CV and cover letter to Dr Natalie Belsey (n.belsey@surrey.ac.uk) and Professor Tao Chen (t.chen@surrey.ac.uk).

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Application deadline

Contact details

Natalie Belsey
E-mail: n.belsey@surrey.ac.uk

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