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Award details

Development of advanced optical tools for early detection and diagnosis of oesophageal cancer, PhD-funded Ref: 4195

About the award


Academic supervisors:

Prof Francesca Palombo, University of Exeter

Prof Nick Stone, University of Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence  1st January 2022. For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.

Project Description

The project will develop the application of advanced optical tools for early detection of oesophageal cancer (OC). We plan to further the advancement of the next generation optical elastography technique based on Brillouin scattering in combination with Raman spectroscopy to detect Barrett’s oesophagus (BO)-associated dysplasia to prevent progression to invasive OC.

We seek a talented physical scientist / engineer (PhD student) to join our multidisciplinary team in Biospectroscopy / Biophysics in Exeter. The project is focused on the development of an emerging biophotonic technology called Brillouin microscopy. We are leaders in this field and the successful candidate would be part of developing a platform technology that combines Brillouin probing with Raman signal detection and advanced data analysis. The successful applicant would participate in a multidisciplinary clinical partnership programme, joining a team of leading scientists from the University of Exeter, University of Perugia (Italy) and Gloucestershire Hospitals working to develop novel medical technologies of the future to address critical needs in spectroscopic techniques that provide exquisite detail but limited signal intensity.

Oesophageal cancer (OC) is the eighth most common cancer in males in the UK and one with dismal prognosis – only 12% of patients survive OC for more than 10 years. Vibrational spectroscopy techniques based on infrared or visible light are non-destructive, label-free and chemically specific, providing information on the structure and molecular make-up of matter. Raman spectroscopy through an endoscope has shown high sensitivity and specificity for detecting Barrett’s oesophagus (BO)-associated high-grade dysplasia (HGD) and adenocarcinoma, as well as the ability to grade dysplasia in ex vivo tissue. Early detection and endoscopic resection of BO-associated HGD can prevent progression to invasive OC.

Brillouin spectroscopy is an emerging technique in biomedicine – it provides information on the micromechanics of tissues through a non-destructive contactless approach at high frequencies (GHz). Preliminary data demonstrated the existence of correlations between elasticity and composition (epithelial cells vs extracellular matrix) in BO. Through this multidisciplinary collaboration, we will further develop our preliminary work using Brillouin and Raman spectroscopy. These novel techniques can be applied to tissue biopsy samples taken at endoscopy, to aid detection of changes that lead to cancer, and provide a personalised strategy for endoscopic surveillance based on risk profile, or to direct treatment.

The PhD project will be based at the University of Exeter, with experimental work being undertaken within Physics on the Streatham Campus. Supervision will be provided by Prof Francesca Palombo, Associate Professor of Biomedical Spectroscopy, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Exeter, and Prof Nick Stone, Professor of Biomedical Imaging and Biosensing, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Exeter.

The PhD student will benefit from working in a multidisciplinary environment within Biomedical Physics at Exeter. This research would suit a candidate with a Physics, Natural Sciences, or Optical Engineering degree, ideally with previous experience developing analytical tools such as microscopy and spectroscopy techniques. This fully funded PhD studentship is available from the 1st January 2022 for 4 years.

1) UK/EU standard Research Council criteria
This studentship is available to candidates resident in the UK/EU.
To meet the residency entry requirements for full funding (tuition fees and a maintenance allowance) you must have:
• Lived in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship
• No restrictions on how long you are able to stay in the UK
• If you are not a UK or EU national, the purpose of your residence in the UK must not be wholly or mainly for full-time education.

If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs.
To be eligible for fees only funding you must be:
• Ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU

2) No international eligibility
Candidates who are classed as international for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for this studentship.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Physics or related subjects. Experience in optics, spectroscopy, microscopy and biomedical applications is desirable.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.
• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 12th October 2021.  Interviews will be held virtually/at Streatham campus (interview dates are to be confirmed).

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers)  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisors Professor Francesca Palombo (  or Professor  Nick Stone (


Application deadline:12th October 2021
Value:Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions