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A machine learning approach to understand how invertebrates maintain homeostasis upon exposure to pharmaceuticals


Project Description

A 4 year PhD studentship sponsored by BBSRC & AstraZeneca, to start 01/10/2019.

Pharmaceuticals enter the aquatic environment largely via human excretion to the wastewater network after consumption. Human therapeutic targets across aquatic wildlife are largely conserved. Therefore, sufficiently internalised concentrations of pharmaceuticals could drive changes in wildlife physiology. Freshwater benthic detritivores such as Gammarus pulex, for example, occupy one of the key ecological niches in rivers (involved with nutrient cycling) and have been shown to accumulate pharmaceuticals among other types of contaminants. However, our understanding of how these compounds can impact these animals (and others by implication) is critically lacking. These contaminants are biologically active and adverse effects are likely to be involved with the alteration of homeostatic pathways. The human plasma lipid profile (lipidome) is currently proving to be an extensive repository of biomarkers that are associated with disease and stress. The extension of this powerful technique to characterise the lipid profile for non-target invertebrates will represent an integrated response that will reflect disruption of homeostasis by exiguous concentrations of chemical contaminants. This project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between King’s and AstraZeneca, a global pharmaceutical company that is committed to assessing and managing potential risks of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

The student will receive extensive multidisciplinary training in techniques to develop a valuable set of technical and theoretical expertise for a successful career as an independent scientist. They will develop extensive analytical skills in the laboratory and for identification and interpretation of mass spectra. They will develop advanced skills in machine learning and computational interpretations of large, multi-faceted datasets to understand feature selection from the lipidome and metabolome and relate the two. Strong data handling, archiving and interpretation will be developed as will key transferable skills in machine learning using Python and R. There will be significant opportunity to design and execute in vivo experiments. We expect significant communication skills to be developed through international conference and publications. Time at the industrial partner will be tailored to the candidates need with a view to supporting their future career development and skillset.

The candidate should have a minimum of an undergraduate degree (2:1) in bioanalytical science or a related field and experience working with analytical techniques such as liquid chromatography, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. The project will utilise advanced computational workflows for data analysis therefore skills and experience with R/Python/MATLAB etc., are desirable for this studentship. A keen interest in environmental science and toxicology will be useful to understand the application of the work but is not a requirement.

The successful candidate will be based in the School of Population Health & Environmental Sciences and is one of seven Schools that make up the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine at King’s. Our vision is to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations using our world leading infrastructures, global networks and interdisciplinary practice. The School combines experts in population and global health with analytical, environmental, forensic and social scientists. Our 300 staff innovate across disciplines to understand challenges from air pollution to stroke rehabilitation, using data and informatics to ensure that action is informed by evidence. 78% of our research submitted to REF 2014* was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent: the sixth highest in the UK.

Within the School the Department of Analytical, Environmental and Forensic Sciences brings together more than 100 analytical, environmental, forensic and toxicological researchers with computer scientists, social scientists and engineers. Based in laboratories at King’s Waterloo Campus, we develop technologies and techniques to identify biomarkers, find pollutants and monitor, measure and model their effects.

Contact Dr Leon Barron or Dr Thomas Miller with any queries.

Funding Notes

This studentship is fully funded for four-years by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) with AstraZeneca as industrial partners. The candidate must meet the eligibility criteria of the BBSRC (available on their website) to receive paid fees and a stipend of £17,009 (incl. London weighting) and an additional contribution from AstraZeneca.

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