Empa - the place where innovation starts

Empa is the research institute for materials science and technology of the ETH Domain and conducts cutting-edge research for the benefit of industry and the well-being of society.
Empa’s Laboratory of Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles is offering a
postdoc/scientist position titled: Physics-based digital human twins to help tailoring pain treatment to individual patients
Our laboratory. Empa’s Laboratory of Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles aims to develop materials and systems for the protection of the human body and its health. The products developed in collaboration with industry are used in the fields of occupational safety, sport, medical applications and health-tech.

Background: With this position, we envision to develop physics-based digital twins to enhance therapy for patients. These digital twins are currently the missing piece of the puzzle at Empa in providing closed-loop diagnostics, using wearable devices, and to control our drug delivery devices in an intelligent way. Digital Transdermal drug delivery (TDD) is a non-invasive method to deliver moderately lipophilic drugs with a low molecular weight through our largest organ: the skin. Via this pathway, low-bioavailable pharmacological agents with a high first-pass effect are successfully self-administered in lower doses. The transdermal drug uptake through the skin varies significantly from person-to-person, compared to other administration routes. The reason is that the delivery pathway – the human skin – is very patient-specific. The percutaneous absorption kinetics depend on the patient and his/her bio-environment. Here, skin composition and its hygro-thermo-mechanical properties play a role, but also the patient's metabolism and lifestyle, as well as environmental temperature and humidity. However, most transdermal therapies are "one-size-fits-all". As an example, conventional transdermal therapy for fentanyl comprises administering a transdermal patch with a certain concentration for 72 hours and then replacing the patch.


Next-generation transdermal pain therapy should be individualized more. Such tailored therapy requires an augmented insight in the percutaneous fentanyl uptake, the depletion of the TDD patch, the patient's blood concentration, the drug metabolization, the patient's response in terms of pain-relief effect and breathing rate. We developed an innovative way to tailor TDD therapy to patients. To do so, we developed a digital twin or human avatar of the patient.


Objective
: We successfully demonstrated digital human avatars' potential for transdermal fentanyl delivery for pain-relief therapy with an in-silico proof-of-concept. In the current project, we aim to take the next step by bringing pain therapy driven by digital human avatars closer to the clinics. To this end, we have three targets.

  1. Develop and test a physics-based digital human avatar that can be used by medical doctors to tailor a-priori the transdermal pain therapy for a patient (patch drug content and duration of application). This digital twin is individualized to the patient.
  2. Develop and test a digital human avatar that can also drift along with the patient during pain therapy. The patient sends real-time feedback on the pain level and respiration comfort to the human avatar at regular points in time. Based on this information, the human avatar adjusts therapy on-the-go.
  3. Roll out these two concepts with our clinical partner (Swiss hospital).

Your long-term goal is to push the development and use of digital twins for pain treatment in the clinics by leading a small team of researchers. The perspective would be to develop and lead on the longer term a full scientific group in this field.


Your tasks

  • Setup a research line on digital twins for pain treatment, based on our current physics-based digital twin for pain treatment.
  • Turn this model in a stand-alone application that the medical doctors can use to improve their therapy. Interact with the medical doctors to optimize this application. Link the modeling work to the wearable technologies (ECG belt) that are developed at the lab.
  • Plan, coordinate and analyze the clinical experiments with the patients and medical doctors.
  • Successful sourcing of funding for follow-up projects on digital twins for pain treatment.
  • Project management, leadership, acquisition and administration.
  • Scientific coordination and management of the staff working in these projects.
  • Dissemination of your work in scientific publications and educational activities.
  • Outreach activities with partners and stakeholders.
  • Scientific administration and management support to the group.
Your profile

  • Completed PhD degree in engineering, physics or materials science and a few years postdoctoral experience.
  • A proven publication record in physics-based modeling, preferably in drug delivery.
  • Profound knowledge of diffusive heat and mass transport processes in biological materials.
  • Proven experience in continuum modelling (finite element modelling, computational fluid dynamics).
  • Additional skills and expertise in the biomedical domain are advantageous.
  • Excellent communication skills and fluency in English (both written and oral) are mandatory. Knowledge of German is considered advantageous.

Administration. A project duration of 24 months is envisaged to carry out the above research tasks. An extension can be discussed in the course of the project. Empa supports the project under the supervision of Prof. Thijs Defraeye and Prof. René Rossi. The candidate will perform his research at Empa in St. Gallen. The desired starting date is 1st of April 2022 or upon mutual agreement.
For further information about the position please contact Thijs Defraeye  thjs.defraeye@empa.ch  and visit our websites www.empa.ch/web/s401 or http://www.empa.ch/web/simbiosys and Empa-Video

We look forward to receiving your online application including a letter of motivation, CV, diplomas with transcripts, publications and transcripts and contact details of two referees. Please upload the requested documents through our webpage. Applications via email will not be considered.

Empa, Esther Zürcher, Human Resources, Lerchenfeldstrasse 5, 9014 St. Gallen, Switzerland.