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Liquid biopsy technology for tracking stem cells: a microfluidics approach

Primary Supervisor: Dr Jerome Charmet, WMG

Secondary supervisor: Professor M. Gibson and Dr M. Neves

PhD project title: Liquid biopsy technology for tracking stem cells: a microfluidics approach

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Advances in microfabrication and microfluidics have emerged as promising analytical alternatives for the development of non-invasive liquid biopsies of blood-borne biomarkers, holding potential for evaluating treatment options and guiding therapy.

Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a rare subpopulation of cells found within tumours with the typical properties associated with stem cells (i.e self-renewal, differentiation, and tumorigenicity). There is a clear need to understand the function and population of these cells. However, current tools to allow isolation of these are not efficient. The traditional epithelial-related cell-surface markers, which are currently used to isolate these from complex media are not always reliable and do not results in pure populations.

This multidisciplinary project will exploit a range of biotechnological approaches to study the glycosylation profile of CSCs and reveal their unique surface glycan (sugars) signature. We will then use this information to integrate glycan binding proteins within an innovative fluidic platform to detect and study these rare, but important, cell populations.

The CharmetLab have recently developed a novel liquid biopsy multiscale platform for the detection of circulating tumour cells and the GibsonGroup has previous experience in developing glyconanotechnology approaches for clinical applications:


  1. Yang J., et al., Multiscale Flow Rate Independent Liquid Biopsy, 2020 (in preparation)
  2. Baker A.N., M.I. Gibson, et al., The SARS-COV-2 spike protein binds sialic acids, and enables rapid detection in a lateral flow point of care diagnostic device, ACS Central Science,2020. DOI: 1021/acscentsci.0c00855

This project will enable a student to learn new skills in a highly interdisciplinary environment, ranging from lab-on-a-chip advanced technologies to cell glycobiology and polymer science. The project will involve the use of protein micro-array printers, cell culture, fluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry, polymer science and microfabrication and manufacturing techniques.

The key objectives will include:

  • Mapping the surface glycan pattern of stem cells.
  • Development of novel analytical tools for cell isolation and enrichment.
  • Recovery of viable cells for post-processing analysis and applications.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the Rules of Life: Stem Cells. Integrated Understanding of Health: Diet and Health

    Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

    • Polymer Chemistry
    • Cell culture
    • Fluorescence microscopy
    • Flow Cytometry
    • Microfabrication techniques for microfluidic devices

    Contact: Dr Jerome Charmet, University of Warwick