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Real time monitoring of stress and strain in 3D printed bone tissue engineering scaffolds using advanced optical fibre sensors S&T30

  • School: School of Science and Technology
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2022

Bone tissue engineering is a burgeoning research field in which porous scaffolds are carefully designed to fill large fracture gaps of long bones and to promote bone regeneration. The stability of implanted scaffolds and force experienced by them are critical for bone regeneration. It is well known that both excessive bone micromotion caused by inadequate fixation and excessively rigid fixation can retard bone healing. However, currently there is no means used in the clinic to measure the magnitude of micromotion in patient in real-time. Orthopaedic surgeons can only infer excessive micromotion (i.e. inadequate bone immobilisation) post-surgery based on radiograph of callus formation around the fracture site. This usually happens late when nonuion (6 months without bone union) is determined clinically. Furthermore, the stress experienced by an implanted scaffold can great affect bone regeneration through a mechanism called “mechanotransduction”. Experiments in which force and strain were applied to bones of live animals have shown that bone responded to load of even a limited magnitude and duration. However, the strain gauges that have been employed in those animal studies were bulky and non-biocompatible. Importantly, there is currently no means to monitoring these forces in patients in real time.

This project aims to address these unmet challenges by developing advanced optical fibre sensors that can monitor the stress and strain within 3D printed bone tissue engineering scaffolds in real time. These sensors will be small and biocompatible and have the capability to measure multiple locations. As a first step of clinical translation, the project will aim to demonstrate the capability of measuring stress and strain within porous scaffolds in vitro.

The specific objectives of the project are:

  1. Develop an optical fibre sensor that has high sensitivity in measuring stress and strain and is mechanically strong, tough, and flexible. Test the performance (e.g. sensitivity, biocompatibility) of the optical fibre sensors using in vitro cytotoxicity assays.
  2. 3D print porous polymer scaffolds and integrate optical fibres into the scaffolds. Measure real-time stress and strain at multiple locations within 3D printed scaffolds that are under physiologically relevant forces in an in vitro setting.

The experimental techniques that will be used in the project will include: fabrication of fibre Bragg grating on different materials of optical fibres; mechanical characterisation of the optical fibres; 3D printing of polymer scaffolds; signal processing of optical fibre measurement. Characterisation of signal changes caused by the changes of material properties.

The supervisory team consists of Director of Studies Dr Qimei Zhang (NTU) and co-supervisors Dr Cuifeng Ying (NTU), Dr Jing Yang (University of Nottingham).

School strategic research priority

The project aligns with the Imaging, Materials, and Engineering Centre. The project is multidisciplinary, and it aligns both with the Medical Technologies and Advanced Materials and the Health and Wellbeing research themes.

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

For guidance and to make an application, please visit our studentship application page. The application deadline is Friday 14 January 2022.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2022 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Download our full applicant guidance notes for more information.

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