PhD Opportunity: Digital manikins to measure pain in the context of large scale research studies

Posted on October 23, 2018

The Health e-Research Centre is looking for high-calibre individuals to undertake a PhD project at the interface of health informatics and digital epidemiology, with a focus on developing and validating novel digital health measurement tools. For more information on the project and on how to apply, please see below.


MRC DTP PhD studentship: University of Manchester, UK

Application Deadline: 16th November 2018



Digital manikins to measure pain in the context of large scale research studies



Moderate to severe pain affects 1 in 5 adults. It is among the most prominent symptoms of musculoskeletal disease, and substantially affects the quality of life of people suffering from it. Accurately measuring pain over time is therefore central to understanding the natural history and mechanisms of musculoskeletal disease, as well as to evaluating treatment response in trials and clinical care.

Pain is commonly measured through patient-reported questionnaires, but language and literacy barriers hamper their use in certain patient groups and settings. Also, questionnaires may be suboptimal for engaging people in data collection over longer periods of time. Manikins are drawings that represent the human body. They provide an easy way for people to report the extent and location of their pain by shading areas on the manikin, and overcome the potential barriers associated with questionnaires. Traditional paper-based manikins require experts to manually score manikin reports in order to obtain quantitative data. Some available digital pain manikins have automated this manual scoring process, but can only be used on a dedicated device. Others are more widely accessible as a smartphone app, but focus on supporting self-management without translating manikin reports into analysable scores. Furthermore, comprehensive validation studies of digital pain manikins are scarce.

This project aims to expedite the use of digital manikins as the new standard for pain assessment in large scale research studies. It will provide insight in the current state of affairs, validate existing tools, and provide recommendations to guide future work by researchers and app developers. You will have a multidisciplinary supervisory team with expertise in health informatics, digital epidemiology, clinical medicine and statistics. They will support you with obtaining knowledge and skills to validate novel digital health measurement tools through prospectively collecting and analysing quantitative and qualitative data in people with chronic pain. There will be ample opportunity to engage with industry partners through the supervisors’ network.

This project would suit a student with a strong health informatics or epidemiology background who has a particular interest in health measurement and digital technology.


Supervisory team

Dr Sabine van der Veer (principal supervisor;

Prof Will Dixon

Dr John McBeth

Dr Jamie Sergeant


Entry requirements

Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.


Application notes

This project is to be funded under the MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor (Sabine van der Veer) to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form – full details on how to apply can be found on the MRC DTP website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.