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PhD position in multiscale modeling of the intervertebral disc to predict the relationship between of degenerative processes and systemic low grade inflammation @Universitat Pompeu Fabra

The Biomechanics and Mechanobiology (BMMB) research group is currently looking for a PhD Candidate working on multicellular models to describe the dynamics of the long-term mechanobiological regulation of the intervertebral disc (IVD), and the effect of low-grade inflammation on such immune-privileged organ.

The IVD lies within the vertebras, providing flexibility to the spine and is, therefore, constantly subjected to complex loading conditions. It reflects the biggest avascular structure of the human body, where cell nutrition is diffusion dependent. Hence, cells within the IVD are constantly subjected to a demanding loading and nutrition environment.

Dynamics at the (multi-) cellular level, related to this harsh environment are currently thought to be a main driving force in the dynamics of IVD degeneration, given the highly load-bearing capacity of the IVD at the organ level. IVD degeneration accounts for over 40% of cases of low back pain, which affects over 80% of the world’s population at least once in an individual’s lifetime, which emphasizes the need for investigation.

IVD degeneration is a slow process, developing over months to years without being perceived by the person, therefore, classified as a “non-communicable disease”. Research suggests that the presence of proinflammatory cytokines plays a critical role in IVD degeneration, and being possibly a major regulator of non-communicable diseases in general, which includes systemic diseases such as osteoarthritis (OA) and atherosclerosis (AS).

The European Research Council Consolidator Grant (ERC CoG) funded project O-Health (101044828) aims at shedding light to the role of low-grade inflammation in non-communicable diseases. This PhD thesis will be part of the O-Health research project, focusing on the relationship between low-grade inflammation and IVD degenerative processes.

Job description:

The PhD Candidate will develop in silico models to approximate the regulation of IVD degeneration with emphasis on the role of low-grade inflammation within the intervertebral disc. The work encompasses various in silico modeling techniques to cover the multiple spatial scales, i.e. from a subcellular up to a multicellular level, required to adequately model regulations of inflammatory and degenerative processes. Those techniques include primarily network modeling and Agent-based modeling approaches. The IVD multiscale model developed by the PhD Candidate forms part of a large network of interconnected models that simulate other non-communicable diseases such as OA and AS and their connection via the blood stream. Hence, the PhD candidate will tightly collaborate with a team of computer scientists, data scientists, biomechanicians and experts in (cell-)biology.

The work contract covers funding for a period of up to four years. It will be led by the BMMB research lab, which forms part of the research unit BCN MedTech, at the Department of Communication and Information Technologies (DTIC) of the University Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona, Spain.

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