UCL Institute of Ophthalmology


Ocular imaging biomarkers in health and disease PhD Studentship

We are welcoming applications for a three-year PhD studentship funded by us and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital. Closes: Thursday 10 August

UCL Department / Division: UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
Duration of Studentship:  Three years, available to start from Autumn 2023
PhD Title: Ocular imaging biomarkers in health and disease  
Supervisor(s): Professor Marinko Sarunic PhD MBA PEng and Dr Magdalena Niestrata BSc (Hons) MBChB (Hons) MSc (Dist) PhD (Dist) FRCOphth FEBO FICO

We are offering a full-time, three-year PhD studentship to investigate ocular diseases and develop software technologies (traditional programming and introductory artificial intelligence methods) around image processing using bespoke instrumentation at the NIHR Biomedical Research Center at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. Our team is highly interdisciplinary: Professor Sarunic is cross-appointed between the Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering and the Institute of Ophthalmology, and Dr Niestrata is a clinician-scientist cross appointed between Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Institute of Ophthalmology. 

The research project will include in-depth studies of anterior and posterior segment of the eye using the newest imaging technologies in the Moorfields Eye Hospital Clinical Research Facility. The project will utilise artificial intelligence (AI) and data science tools to assign clinical utility to complex imaging data.

This research will investigate questions regarding the identification of early changes (biomarkers) of disease in vivo. There is sufficient evidence to show that structural and functional changes at the cellular level occur much earlier before the changes in visual acuity occur clinically. Hence, early identification of the disease process before symptoms develop could enable earlier commencement of treatment and better prognosis. This project will use an assortment of ocular imaging techniques to examine the anterior and posterior segment (front and back the eye) segment (cornea) and investigate novel image processing methods to identify biomarkers of disease.

In the front of the eye, the technological focus will be on processing of data acquired using optical coherence tomography (OCT), including the newest methods such as full field / spatiotemporal OCT in view to obtain non-contact high resolution in vivo images of individual cells in different corneal layers in health and disease. 

In the back of the eye, adaptive optics and related techniques will be used to measure the light sensitive tissue called the retina. Representative applications include investigation of AI methods for quantitative analysis of the photoreceptors and blood vessels. These measurements will be made while the eye is ‘at rest’ and during stimulated conditions.

This project is at the interface of translational clinical research and biomedical sciences / engineering, and applications are welcome from different educational streams. Applicants with a technical (computer science, biomedical engineering, medical physics) background should have an interest in clinical medicine / translational medical research and, preferably, some experience in working in clinical settings. Alternatively, graduates from medicine or related biomedical sciences would have interest and basic skills in IT and programming and be keen to develop them further. We welcome applications from medical students with an interest in medical imaging and image analysis wishing to combine clinical work with research or aspiring clinical academics. 

Duties and Responsibilities
The successful candidate is expected to:

  • Continue development to automated data analysis including image registration, object detection and tracking using a combination of conventional programming and AI methods.
  • Modify complex testing equipment to perform specific task and be able to generalise across systems
  • Compare biomarkers (in healthy and diseased eyes) gained through image acquisition in different imaging modalities
  • Be able, with a team, to see clinical patients and collect usable patient images and data
  • Work in collaboration with other researchers in a multidisciplinary team
  • Prepare progress reports
  • Prepare presentations
  • Travel for collaboration and other meetings or conferences
  • Prepare manuscripts for submission to international peer-reviewed journals
  • Contribute to the overall activities of the research team, department and be aware of UCL policies

Person Specification

  • High academic achievement in the area of specialisation 
  • Demonstrable interest in working with human subjects and translational medicine 
  • Basic knowledge/skill in programming and interest in artificial intelligence
  • Excellent methodological skills, particularly in project planning
  • Interest in developing skills in statistical methods and related software packages
  • High proficiency in written and spoken English is required
  • Very strong work ethic, with the ability to think creatively and work both individually and within a team
  • Familiarity in imaging processing and image analysis is desired

Informal enquiries should be made to Professor Marinko Sarunic (m.sarunic@ucl.ac.uk).
How to apply
Applicants should submit an application to the Research Degrees Manager ioo.pgr@ucl.ac.uk 

You will be required to submit a CV, a covering letter outlining motivation, interest, and suitability for this project, and the names and contact details for two academic referees. Please cite the PhD title of the studentship you are applying for.

Enquiries relating to the application process should be sent to the Research Degrees Manager at ioo.pgr@ucl.ac.uk 

Shortlisted candidates will be contacted directly for interview.
The successful candidate is expected to start in the Autumn term 2023, with some flexibility with regards to start date. 
Funding Notes
This studentship is funded for three years by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and includes UK UCL PhD tuition fees, laboratory costs and an annual salary stipend starting at £22,000 p.a.

The full studentship (tuition fees and salary stipend) is eligible to all UK nationals and some EU nationals depending on their settlement status. This scholarship will only cover UK home fees. 
Applicants who will incur international fees are welcome to apply but they must show that they can supplement the difference between UK and international fees in their application.  (This fee difference is currently £26, 240 per academic year).  

Application deadline: Thursday 10 August 2023
Proposed interview date: Week beginning Monday 21 August 2023