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Detection of pathogen-specific bacteriophages in face-mask samples to distinguish colonisation from infection in exacerbations of chronic lung disease

Project Description

Bacteriophages are surrogate indicators of the bacterial populations they infect; they are also readily aerosolised. In this project we combine two leading edge research programmes at Leicester to investigate how phages may be used to better understand and manage the lung diseases chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma in which the airways contain high microbial populations. When people suffer deteriorations (exacerbations) culture often detects pathogens and, despite weak evidence that these organisms are responsible, patients are treated with antibiotics. The student will use our Mask Aerosol Sampling System (MASS) to take exhaled breath samples from patients when stable and when unwell and will focus on analysis of the exhaled phage population in these samples. A central hypothesis is that bacteria involved in disease pathogenesis will be stressed and more likely to induce phage activation; we already know that phages are abundant in respiratory samples.

The work will be supported by the respiratory section of our NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and ongoing studies on COPD and asthma. The student will learn novel techniques in aerobiology, metagenomics and phage biology as well as key aspects of working with patients (ethics, consent and study power assessment).

Interviews will be held in the week commencing the 11th February 2019.

Entry requirements

Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject. The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable.

How to apply

Please apply via:

Project / Funding Enquiries: Mike Barer (; 0116 252 2933); Martha Clokie (; 0116 252 2959)
Application enquiries to
Closing date for applications 20th January 2019

Funding Notes



1.) Bafadhel M, et al Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: identification of biologic clusters and their biomarkers. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2011; 184(6): 662-71. 2.) Wang Z, et al Lung microbiome dynamics in COPD exacerbations. Eur Respir J 2016; 47(4): 1082-92.
3.) Withatanung P, et al Analyses of the Distribution Patterns of Burkholderia pseudomallei and Associated Phages in Soil Samples in Thailand Suggest That Phage Presence Reduces the Frequency of Bacterial Isolation. Plos Neglect Trop Dis 2016; 10(9): 13. 4.) Clokie M, et al. New horizons in the understanding of the causes and management of diabetic foot disease: report from the 2017 Diabetes UK Annual Professional Conference Symposium. Diabetic Med 2017; 34(3): 305-15. 5.) Egilmez HI, et al Temperature-dependent virus lifecycle choices may reveal and predict facets of the biology of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria. Sci Rep 2018; 8: 13. 6.) Kennedy M, et al Face mask sampling reveals antimicrobial resistance genes in exhaled aerosols from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and healthy volunteers. BMJ Open Respir Res 2018; 5(1): e000321. 7.) Williams CML, et al Face mask sampling reveals variable patterns of Mtb aerosols in pulmonary disease dissociated from traditional markers of transmission risk. BioRxiv 2018;

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