University of Cambridge

Job Opportunities


PhD Studentship in Optical Brain Imaging for Dementia

About Us: The Neuro Optics Lab is a new, multidisciplinary research group operating jointly between the Departments of Physics and Engineering at the University of Cambridge. We develop and validate new optical methods to monitor brain function and metabolism non-invasively. The lab focusses on near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS)-based methods to perform in-vivo monitoring of metabolic markers including haemoglobin oxygenation, mitochondrial function and blood flow. We pioneer tools and techniques to monitor relevant physiology for both basic science and medical applications. Our work is highly translational and we work closely with clinical partners to deliver technologies that progress medical therapeutics.

This project is in collaboration with Prof John O'Brien, Head of the Old Age Psychiatry Research Group, Department of Psychiatry ( The group undertakes a variety of research studies investigating imaging biomarkers in cohorts of people with dementia and at-risk groups including the use of 3T and 7T multi-modal MRI, various ligand PET studies and studies of cerebrospinal fluid and blood biomarkers, aiming to translate new markers into clinical practice.

Project Description: NIRS is a prominent tool for functional brain imaging in situations where traditional neuroimaging (e.g. fMRI) isn't possible, such as in intensive care or the community. Our lab develops broadband spectroscopy techniques to perform metabolic monitoring with NIRS. This has unique applications in dementia where metabolism is known to have an important role of the mechanisms of neurodegeneration. Being able to monitor a patient's brain metabolism in the diagnosis, treatment and management of dementia quickly, non-invasively and in any scenario could have a huge impact on patient care. This project is the first step towards this goal: bringing NIRS technologies into the dementia clinic. The project will involve the development of new NIRS study protocols, during both cognitive testing and in combination with 'gold-standard' technologies (such as MRI or PET), recruitment, data acquisition, processing and analysis. The studies will be carried out initially on healthy volunteers before moving to dementia patients recruited from clinical services in Cambridge and nearby NHS Trusts. The aim of this research is to demonstrate the feasibility of the technology in the hospital, with the long term goal of identifying a biomarker of dementia type and severity with optics.

Desirable Skills: A background in medicine/neuroscience with an interest in medical physics/engineering, or a background in physical science/engineering with an interest in dementia/neuroscience. Experience with programming (MATLAB, Python, etc.) is advantageous. The candidate must have (or expect to obtain) a 1st or 2:1 degree in a STEMM subject.

The successful candidate will have a strong interest in dementia, medical devices and experimental work with patients. They should: enjoy working between different disciplines; be keen to take the initiative with independent creativity and problem solving; and exhibit strong motivation towards the project. In addition, they will require: excellent oral and written communication skills; good team working skills; and a strong critical thinking capability. Examples of any past experience that demonstrates these characteristics should be highlighted in the cover letter that accompanies any application. We expect the candidate will develop into an independent experimental researcher and will present their work in academic journals and conferences.

Further information: Interest in or requests for more information about the project should be made to Gemma Bale ( with the subject line "Optics in Dementia PhD" before application to the University.

This 3.5-year studentship will cover University fees at the home rate, and a maintenance allowance.

Applications should be submitted via the University of Cambridge Applicant Portal, with Dr Gemma Bale identified as the potential supervisor.

The University actively supports equality, diversity and inclusion and encourages applications from all sections of society.