Epigenetics covers the study of persistent modifications of gene expression leading to a change of physical properties without a change of genetic properties. Epigenetic changes of DNA are heritable and do not involve the DNA sequence, but are rather modifications of DNA that affect the function of a cell. An example under study is the addition and removal of methyl groups of DNA, so-called DNA methylation. Also other changes within the chromatin, such as modifications of histones, are of vivid interest. Epigenetic changes can be influenced by the environment and lifestyle and may lead to cancer, autoimmune disease, mental disorder and diabetes. Early diagnosis of epigenetic modifications is therefore of vital importance and is seen as a promising future pathway of personal health care. Although detection of e.g. DNA methylation is commercially available, devices are costly, and more importantly, every measurement is costly as it requires consumables. Spectroscopy at THz frequencies is particularly sensitive to vibrational degrees of freedom, such as CH3-groups. In addition, the absorption in this spectral range scales with the dipole moment, and is large for molecules such as DNA. As the technique works at ambient conditions and does not need consumables, a diagnostic THz sensor would therefore be a practical and cost-efficient solution to current standards.
The project is bridging electrical engineering and molecular biology and has as goal to study the opportunities of THz spectroscopy in the field of epigenetics thereby aiming at a first breakthrough clinical sensor using THz technology. After familiarization of THz spectroscopy and DNA-related samples, the research of the candidate will focus on the detection of epigenetic phenomena as mentioned above using THz spectroscopy and existing benchmark methods. Hereto, the candidate will need to design an appropriate measurement setup, perform experiments autonomously and in collaboration with hospitals, institutes and other universities, and develop signal processing algorithms. The latter ones may include analyses based on chemical and physical interactions, complemented with contemporary AI principles. Eventually, the scientific results are to be translated into a diagnostic THz sensor system design e.g. for clinical usage. Collaborations within the Electrical Engineering department as well as with the Biomedical Technology department are foreseen.
We welcome applications from candidates with a MSc degree or equivalent in Biomedical technology, Biophysics, Medical physics, Clinical Technology, Electrical Engineering or related field. Experience with biomedical studies, (Python) programming and optics is advantageous.
Do you recognize yourself in this profile and would you like to know more? Please contact
dr. J.L.M. van Mechelen, j.l.m.v.mechelen[at]tue.nl.
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