Engineering better biofilm models will give us environments more representative of the conditions under which bacterial populations grow. We have a particular interest in the human gut microbiota. As well as containing at least as many bacterial cells as human cells in our body, the gut microbiota is only just being recognised as playing a vital role in our health - affecting everything from mental well-being to diseases such as diabetes. In particular, we are interested in the role the gut microbiome plays in hosting anti-microbial resistant (AMR) pathogens. These pathogens have evolved to resist treatments such as antibiotics and can cause severe illness and death; the WHO recognise antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.
This project cuts across engineering and microbiology at the University of Leeds and brings a unique environment for your PhD study. The Healthcare-Associated-Infection-Research-Group has been developing models of the human gut for 25 years and has created a unique laboratory model system with which to study AMR. As a result, new treatments for infections have been established which have been used to successfully treat patients. For the past 5 years, a strong collaboration with the School of Mechanical Engineering has created the next-generation model that retains all the unique features of the original but through engineering design, have created mini-models with high-throughput capabilities by considering fluid mechanics, operability, and control.
But we want to go further - hence this PhD. We wish to establish novel biofilm nursery models that sit alongside the mini-models with defined and controlled fluidic environments operating under physiologically relevant conditions. To do this we need to consider the materials on which the biofilms grow, the flow environment within the models and their control to mimic the conditions in the colon as closely as possible. Ultimately your designs will be tested in clinically relevant studies – for example demonstrating the model performance using microbial therapeutics designed to reduce AMR pathogens in the intestinal environment, thus adding to scientific understanding of AMR and its treatment.
You will need to bring skills of engineering design and analysis with a willingness to work across traditional boundaries. In return, you will find yourself in a rich environment to learn new multidisciplinary techniques - for example microbiology techniques, data processing and material characterisation as well as transferable skills such as creativity, communication and critical thinking.