Medicine: Fully Funded Swansea University and ABMU Health Board PhD Scholarship at Swansea University: Applications of Diffusion-weighted Magnetic Resonance Imaging to Colorectal Cancer

  • Full cost of UK/EU tuition fees, plus a stipend
  • Deadline: July 20, 2018
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This scholarship is funded by Swansea University Medical School and the Department of Colorectal Surgery, ABMU Health Board.

Subject areas: Magnetic Resonance Imaging Physics

Start date: October 2018

Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DW-MRI) is an important technique used extensively in many areas of diagnostic imaging, including oncology and neuroscience. The technique involves sensitising the MRI signal to the local diffusion properties of (usually) water. As well as assessing the apparent diffusion coefficients (ADCs) within tissue, DW-MRI may also be used to assess the non-Gaussianity of the diffusion process. The non-Gaussianity is most often quantified by the kurtosis, which is a dimensionless quantity used to provide additional information regarding tissue microstructure.

It has been shown that kurtosis is related to the barrier concentration in model systems. Whilst the presence of barriers does indeed increase kurtosis, it is not fully understood if there are more fundamental origins to the non-Gaussian diffusion process. Answering this question will allow us to more confidently understand how such techniques can be interpreted and used clinically.

Pre-operative chemoradiotherapy is used in locally advanced rectal cancer to downstage the disease prior to surgery. However, it is estimated that 30-40% of patients may have no response to treatment, due to tumour biology and the use of this new imaging technique could be used as a potential biomarker to assist in patient selection for and against use of preoperative radiotherapy. If our DW-MRI techniques can be shown to assess the extent of disease more accurately, and applied in combination with other techniques such as tumour volumetric assessment, there would be a positive benefit in radiotherapy and surgical planning. It is hoped that that DW-MRI characteristics can be shown to correlate with histological grades of aggressiveness of cancer which could have significant impact on planning successful treatment pathways for patients.

There will be two main stages of the proposed research. The first will involve underpinning the theoretical foundations of diffusion kurtosis by modelling the biophysical environment of healthy and diseased tissue states. Analysis of test-object data will allow us to understand the nature of the observations in well-controlled situations, before moving on to volunteer and patient cohorts. You will also investigate situations in which “pseudo-kurtosis” may be observed and whether diffusion kurtosis imaging can be applied to colorectal cancers.

The second stage will involve a patient study with an optimised technique for DW-MRI in the region of interest. Patients with colorectal cancer routinely undergo MRI scanning for staging purposes currently. The proposal is that these patients will undergo their scans on the 3T Siemens system within the Institute of Life Science at Swansea University with an additional DW-MRI sequence added to their examination. The pre-treatment MRI findings will be correlated with the post-operative histology to identify any patterns that could predict response. Furthermore, the histology findings will further inform the theoretical models that will already have been developed.

The supervisory team includes: Dr Jonathan Phillips (MRI physicist), Dr Richard Hugtenburg (radiotherapy physicist), Dr Rhodri Evans (consultant radiologist), Professor Dean Harris (consultant colorectal surgeon) and Dr Sarah Gwynne (consultant clinical oncologist).

Eligibility

Candidates should hold a BSc/MSc in Physics I/IIi. An MSc in Medical Physics with merit or above would be advantageous.

Experience with computer programming e.g. MATLAB/C++ and excellent mathematical skills are required.

We would normally expect the academic and English Language requirements to be met by point of application. For details on the University’s English Language entry requirements, please visit – http://www.swansea.ac.uk/admissions/englishlanguagerequirements/

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is open to UK/EU candidates only.

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Benefits

This scholarship covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees, plus an annual stipend of £14,777. Additional funding for conference attendance is also available.

Application

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