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The University of Southampton
EngineeringPostgraduate study

SES-73-157 PhD Studentship: The virtual placenta: Modelling amino acid transfer from mother to fetus

The aim of this project is to exploit mathematical modelling to understand how placental amino acid transfer functions as an integrated system. Amino acids are essential nutrients which form the building blocks of proteins. Impaired placental amino acid transport causes fetal growth restriction, which is associated with increased rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke in later life. The project will complement and capitalize on a large interdisciplinary BBSRC grant, recently awarded between Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (PI) in Southampton and the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester, which is already attracting international attention.

Placental amino acid transfer is a complex process, governed by blood flow and internal microstructure, which critically relies on specific amino acid transporters (carriers) which take nutrients from maternal blood and release them into fetal blood. The way these transporters work cannot be understood in isolation, as they inherently interact in a complicated interdependent manner and the system displays highly complex, coupled nonlinear behaviour, which cannot be predicted intuitively beforehand.

Therefore, the role of the PhD student will be to develop a systematic computational modelling approach to allow us to understand how the placenta works as an integrated system. This will involve close interaction with biologists to plan experiments and interpret results. The modelling will build on our recent proof of concept paper and enable us to get the maximum out of the unique set of experimental data generated as part of the BBSRC grant.         

This unique highly integrated multidisciplinary approach will represent a major advance in placental physiology, using modelling combined with experiments to deliver for the first time an integrated, quantitative understanding of placental transport, as well as the means to develop targeted interventions to optimise fetal growth and promote lifelong health.

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.

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