PhD Call for Applications at VinUni and the University of Illinois on Evaluating the Effect of Antiviral Drugs using Polarized Light Imaging and Machine Learning Approaches


PhD Call for Applications at VinUni and University of Illinois

Evaluating the Effect of Antiviral Drugs using Polarized Light Imaging and Machine Learning Approaches: The Case of Human-induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Cardiomyocytes

Open date: 01/02/2023 – Closing date: 01/06/2023


Frequently the same disease treatment can have different effects on different people. Hence, finding the safest and most effective treatment for an individual is critical in today’s personalized medicine. If drug evaluation could be performed ex vivo safely at the cells/tissue level using imaging techniques, a significant advance would occur. A standard technique for ex vivo assessment is based on fluorescence dyes and labels; however, they perturb the cellular environment and interfere with cellular health and function. We propose to develop a standard and robust procedure to evaluate the effectiveness of antiviral drugs using label-free, noninvasive light imaging, and machine learning-based approaches. To demonstrate this with a representative example, we will evaluate the effects of Molnupiravir, used for treating SAR-CoV- 2, on cardiomyocytes derived from a human-induced pluripotent stem cell. This project, funded by VinUni-Illinois Smart Health Center , will then be extended to evaluate other antiviral drugs. The outcome of this project will not only answer fundamental questions about cell dynamics corresponding to the treatment but also have a translational aspect and high impact at the societal level if routinely adopted and used in clinical settings.

We are recruiting Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers for the following four aims. Aim 1: Build hardware (Polarized Light Microscope) and develop an experimental procedure to image a single cell in vitro. Aim 2: Evaluate the cardiotoxicity of antiviral drugs’ short-term and long-term treatment in human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes from healthy individuals and patients. Through this project, we will accumulate an extensive dataset and build a lookup library of cytotoxicity for each antiviral drug at the cell level. Aim 3: At the University of Illinois, VinUni students will be trained to use advanced nonlinear, label-free optical systems for imaging cells and tissues at the cellular and sub-cellular levels. This expertise will be transferred to VinUni for further studies. Aim 4: With the most recent AI developments for healthcare applications, deep learning will be used to identify the cytotoxicity of the drugs based on the myofibril length, myofibril density, retardance, and orientation of the sarcomeres.

Training program

As a Ph.D. student, you will undertake training courses that will lead towards a Ph.D. and allow you to gain various skills and expertise to strongly support your future career, whether in industry or academia. Students will be supported in publishing their research and encouraged to present it at international conferences. The students will be advised by professors at Illinois and VinUni from the following team: Illinois: Stephen Boppart, Mark A Anastasio, and Marina Marjanovic. VinUni: Tran Thi Mai,
Nguyen Thi Nhung, Hieu Pham, and Wray Buntine.


This project is suitable for students (Vietnamese only) with a Bachelor’s degree in biology, engineering, public health or a related field. Academic excellence should be demonstrated, i.e. GPA of 3.2 or above. A Master’s degree and/or experience in one of the following fields: biology, numerical methods and simulations, or AI/ML methods are desirable but not essential. Applicants should have a strong interest in biology, public health, entomology, computational and/or machine learning knowledge. Excellent skills in one of the following: field research, programming (Python), molecular biology, numerical methods, simulations, and design thinking is desirable. The key requirements are an interest in the topic and a good work ethic. English language requirements: IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent).


Selected candidates will work towards their PhD degree granted by either VinUniversity (VinUni) or University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and be co-advised by faculty from both universities. During their PhD studies, VISHC PhD students will spend 2 years to study and research at the other university and can optionally seek a master’s degree from that university. This program will cover all tuition fees, living expenses, health insurance, round-trip airfare, and related expenses for VISHC PhD students. The financial support for VISHC PhD students while they are at UIUC is provided by the Vingroup Scholarship Program for Overseas Study for Master’s and Doctoral Degrees. VISHC PhD students will receive a stipend of 10,000 USD/year when they study at VinUni and 25,000 USD/year when they study at UIUC.

How to apply

To arrange an informal discussion, please email VinUni-Illinois Smart Health Center ( and copy Dr. Tran Thi Mai (, Dr. Nguyen Thi Nhung (, and Dr. Pham Huy Hieu ( . You must include your CV, a research summary, and the names of two recommenders who can write letters on their behalf.