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Interaction of phages and the microbiome at the preterm infant gut mucosal interface (ref: RDF20/APP/NELSON)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 24, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Survival of very preterm infants has increased over the last 20 years, but late onset sepsis (LOS) remains a major cause of death and disability in this population. One of the major causes of LOS in preterm infants are coagulase negative Staphylococci which are a major constituent of the skin microbiome. Breast milk from mothers who deliver preterm is nutritionally distinct from term breast milk and contains a microbiome that has higher numbers of Coagulase negative Staphylococcus. Phages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria. However, little is known about the ‘phageome’ of preterm breast milk. It has been demonstrated that phages delivered to the gut bind to mucosal surfaces which increases their chance of successfully infecting gut bacteria. Recent work from our group has identified that the presence of Staphylococcus is common in the preterm gut microbiome and that LOS may be gut mediated. Enteroids are derived from intestinal stem cells and differentiate to form ‘3D miniguts’ which display the architecture of the intestine. Our group has developed an enteroid library from preterm infants. We hypothesise that higher phage titre in breast milk will reduce Staphylococcal load at the mucosal surface and protect preterm infants from gut mediated LOS. To test this hypothesis we will seed enteroid models with phages isolated from preterm breast milk and examine the infection profile of Staphylococci isolated from preterm stool and blood culture. We will expand upon this initial work and seed these organisms as part of a microbiome to see if the protective effect of phages is maintained and monitor how the microbiome develops over time using next generation sequencing. Identifying how phages infect bacteria and modulate microbiome development using a biologically relevant model will allow us to develop novel therapies to protect the immature gut of preterm infants

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 24 January 2020
Start Date: 1 October 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home/EU students with a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2019/20, this is £15,009 pa) and full fees.


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