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Body-on-a-chip: a novel approach to understanding antimicrobial resistance

   Faculty of Medical Sciences

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  Dr Jenny Rohn, Dr Dario Carugo  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Why is this research important? The 2019 World Health Organisation report on antimicrobial resistance (AMR)identifies AMR as one of the greatest threats we face as a global community. While COVID has distracted the world, the continuing and seemingly unstoppable evolution of drug-resistant bacteria could leave us without viable treatments for even the most trivial infections within the next three decades. AMR already kills millions each year, but if nothing is done, the O’Neill Report predicts that drug-resistant infections could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050 and an annual economic cost of £69 trillion.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are among the most common infections in the world, and given their sheer prevalence, represent not only a massive economic and healthcare burden, but a critical exacerbating factor in the global AMR crisis. The pathophysiological mechanisms of UTI ,its recurrence,and the resistance strategies of its microbiological culprits remain understudied, which hinders the development of better therapeutics. The vast majority of the limited research carried out on UTI has relied on mouse models. While many significant advances have been made in the murine system, there are key species-specific differences whose consequences for host/pathogen interactions in patients are completely unknown.

Who would you be working with? We have recently been awarded an £8M EPSRC Programme Grant, Beyond Antibiotics, catalyzing a cross-disciplinary team from UCL, Oxford and Ulsterin conjunction with industrial and healthcare partners to develop innovative new therapies to tackle AMR. The grant brings together a vibrant, friendly group working across the Physical, Life and Medical Sciences to develop new technologies with the goal of improving diagnosis and treatment for bacterial infections. The programme will focus on tackling antimicrobial resistance through novel, ‘drug-free’ approaches and therefore finding alternatives to conventional therapies.The labs of Prof Rohn and Dr Carugo embody the interdisciplinary nature of the grant: Prof Rohn’s team uses a cell-and microbiology approach, while Dr Carugo’s team applies a biomedical engineering focus.

What would you be doing? This PhD project will be at the heart of our efforts to develop an entirely novel, cutting-edge“body-on-a-chip” microfluidic-based organoid platform and to deploy it to study AMR and host/pathogen interactions in a human cell micro-environment.As UTI originates in the gut and from there ascends to the bladder and kidney, we will build on our expertise in human-cell platforms to link gut, bladder and kidney organoids into a seamless system to study the effects of niche on infection, biofilm formation and drug sensitivity. Pilot results suggest that bacteria are exquisitely sensitive to their surroundings, with the ability to flexibly modify their gene expression patterns to adapt to different niches and to evade antibiotics, even when they are “sensitive” according to standard diagnostic tests.Later in the project we expect to expand the reach by exploring wound infection in skin organoids. As a satisfying blend of basic and translational science, this project has massive scope for unveiling key biological mysteries as well as helping to test and perfect therapeutic solutions that can make a real difference to patients in the future. Techniques include tissue engineering, microfluidics, microfabrication, cell biology, high resolution fixed and live imaging, microbiology and genomics.

Who are we looking for? You will be either a physical or life sciences researcher with an eagerness to learn new techniques and the ability to work across disciplines and liaise with multiple collaborator groups. You will be trained in everything you need to know how to do, so we are looking primarily for passion, drive and curiosity.Depending on the stage of the project, you may be based in the Royal Free labs or in the School of Pharmacy, with occasional travel to other partner institutions as needed. 

Studentships are expected to start on 26th September 2022 unless exceptional circumstances require an alternate start date.


Successful applicants must fulfil the academic entry requirements for the programme they are applying for. Further eligibility criteria are based on nationality and residence, see EPSRC regulations on Student eligibility.

These studentships are open to those with Home and International fee status (including EU); however, the number of students with International fee status which can be recruited is capped according to the EPSRC terms and conditions.

We particularly encourage applications from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic candidates, who are currently under-represented within UCL at this level.

How to Apply

Please submit applications in the following format:

  • A CV, including full details of all University course grades to date.
  • Contact details for two academic or professional referees.
  • A personal statement (750 words maximum) outlining (i) your suitability for the project with reference to the criteria above, (ii) what you hope to achieve from the PhD and (iii) your research experience to-date.

Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

Please send your applications to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Studentships provide:
4 years fees (home rate)
Stipend at the UCL EPSRC DTP enhanced rate (£19,062 in 2022/23, rises with inflation each year)
Research Training Support Grant of £4,800 (to cover additional costs of training e.g. courses, project costs, conferences, travel)
A successful international student will also receive a UCL tuition fee support award to cover the additional overseas fees.
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