PhD Studentship: The virtual placenta:Computational modelling of placental nutrient transport for fetal development

Ref: EngSci-BIO-102

Research group:  Bioengineering, Faculty of Engineering and the Environment

Deadline: 20th May 2013

The aim of this project is to exploit computational modelling to understand how placental nutrient transport functions as an integrated system. The placenta regulates nutrient transport from mother to fetus and this is essential for normal fetal growth and development. If transport goes wrong this may result in Fetal Growth Restriction, a disorder that has health implication throughout the lifespan and for which there is currently no effective intervention. Placental transport is highly complex and currently not fully understood, making it difficult to come up with treatments.

Placental transport is determined by blood flow and membrane transport kinetics. Traditionally different transport mechanisms have been studied in isolation, but it is still unclear how these all work together. So, as part of our Virtual Placenta Initiative, we aim for the first time to put all the pieces together using computational modelling in a systems biology approach. This will be done in close collaboration with experimentalists in Southampton, as well as our partners in a big European project. In particular we will focus on transport of amino acids, glucose and fatty acids, which can be affected by maternal conditions such as diabetes and obesity, increasingly prevalent in our modern society.

This exciting interdisciplinary project will be based in Engineering, but in close collaboration with Medicine, as well as Mathematics in Southampton. We are primarily looking for a candidate with a strong modelling background, for example in engineering, applied mathematics, computer science, physics or chemistry. Naturally an interest in biology is required, but previous experience is not essential. The successful candidate will develop new computational models to explain the results of laboratory studies and will then help biologists to design new experiments. This approach has already produced exciting results and led to a rethink of the methods traditionally used by biologists.

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If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr Bram Sengers, Bioengineering research group, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 3300.

To apply, please use the following website:

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