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Defining the links between antibiotic exposure, gut microbial composition and colorectal cancer

   School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

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  Dr K Scott, Dr George Ramsay  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Aberdeen United Kingdom Bioinformatics Cancer Biology Data Analysis Epidemiology Microbiology

About the Project

Rates of colorectal cancer (CRC) in younger adults (<50yr) have increased dramatically in the past three decades, a time when antibiotic administration also increased dramatically. Antibiotics are known to impact on the composition of the gut microbiota, and the gut microbiota is thought to influence the development of CRC. In this project we will establish whether there is a definitive link between these factors.

The project will follow three key aims:

1- Establishing whether the composition of the proximal colon microbiota is different in older and younger patients with colorectal cancer, and whether antibiotic treatment at any time in the past, may have driven this change. The microbial composition of clinical samples (faecal and biopsies) from patients attending the CRC clinics at NHS Grampian, will be compared to age-matched healthy samples and samples from non-cancer patients using detailed Bioinformatic analysis. We will ask patients to complete retrospective questionnaires and also utilise stored primary care data to perform correlation analysis between antibiotic usage, the microbiota composition and CRC incidence.

2- We will perform in vitro culture methods to establish the impact of commonly used specific antibiotics on the commensal gut microbiota, identifying bacterial groups decimated and enriched by specific antibiotic treatments, and investigate methods that may restore the microbial balance.

3- Finally we will assess the pro-inflammatory effect of selected ‘causative’ bacteria (identified above) on human gut epithelial cells in vitro.

Outcomes This research will establish whether there is truly a link between exposure to specific antibiotics, disturbance in the microbiota causing it to become more pro-inflammatory, and subsequent development of CRC. We will also establish whether specific dietary components have the potential to interrupt this vicious disease path.

Training Mandatory training includes Research Governance and Ethics, Equality and Diversity, IT Security and Research Data Management, Health and Safety, as well as academic writing and presentation skills and other postgraduate research student training modules provided to all UoA PhD students. The student will also gain skills in anaerobic microbiology, cell culture, Bioinformatic analysis, and statistical correlation analysis comparing several complex data sets to investigate links.


Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sciences, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing.


Funding Notes

This is a competition funded project including tuition fees and stipend at UKRI rates (for 2021-22. this is £15,609 pa). Overseas candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £17,000 per annum).
Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Merit/Commendation/Distinction as Master's level.
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