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A human ’mini-gut-on-a-chip’ to study microbial-epithelial cell interactions (SAEEDU20DTP)

Project Description

Human organoids are 3D fragments of adult tissues and ideally conserve all of the (stem) cell types and recapitulate all of the (patho)physiological processes associated with human health and disease. Although current organoid culture systems fulfill most of these criteria they suffer from being enveloped in a closed, static environment which conflicts with the in vivo situation. Therefore, we have been developing a novel dynamic human ’mini-gut-on-a-chip’ system that preserves access to the pseudo gut lumen for microbial co-cultures while the epithelial lining is sustained by a perfusion system analogous to peripheral blood. Mechanical contractions will also be imposed to mimic peristalsis. The successful student will help develop the human ’mini-gut-on-a-chip’ system and use it to investigate the molecular mechanisms and physiological consequences of microbial-epithelial cell interactions and luminal-sensing in the human gut.

Changes in the composition of the gut microflora and gut barrier function are associated with an increasing number of diseases. The student will use E. coli and Salmonella as model micro-organisms for commensal and pathogenic bacteria, and will define which microbial ligands activate which receptors on which epithelial cell types and characterise the signalling pathways that stimulate gut stem cell biology and goblet cell mucus secretion to maintain gut epithelial cell homeostasis, barrier function and gut health.

This project builds on recent successes in human gut organoid culture in synthetic hydrogel polymers and microbial co-culture. The successful applicant will be a talented researcher with an enthusiasm for biomaterials, stem cell biology and gut physiology, and will develop multidisciplinary skills in polymer chemistry, biomaterials, 3D scaffold, stem cell biology, fluorescence imaging and an understanding of the molecular basis of lumina-sensing. Research will be performed within a vibrant and dynamic environment in the laboratories of Drs Aram Saeed, Mark Williams and Gary Rowley.

Project supervisor:
Project sponsor: Norwich Research Park Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: 1 October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time
Studentship length: 4 years


- First degree (2:1 or above) in relevant subject
- English language (IELTS 6.5 overall, 6 in each section)


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP). Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed as part of the studentship competition. Candidates will be interviewed on either the 7th, 8th or 9th January 2020.

The NRP DTP offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship (PIPS) during their study. The internship offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

For further information and to apply, please visit our website:

Funding Notes

For funding eligibility guidance, please visit our website: View Website. Full Studentships cover a stipend (2019/0 rate: £15,009pa), research costs and tuition fees at UK/EU rate and are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the UK residency requirements may be eligible for a fees-only award. Students in receipt of a fees-only award will be eligible for a maintenance stipend awarded by the NRPDTP Bioscience Doctoral Scholarships. To be eligible students must meet the EU residency requirements.

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