FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes
University of Sheffield Featured PhD Programmes
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Featured PhD Programmes
FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes
FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes

Investigating the biomedical implication of microplastic accumulation on human epithelial barriers and associated effects on immune function, fibrosis and premature tissue ageing

Project Description

Research Group: Biomedical Research Group

Proposed supervisory team:
Dr Paul Dyer ()
Dr Dannielle Green (),
Prof Selim Cellek ()

Theme: Cardiovascular

Summary of the research project

In recent years, the environmental impact of plastic pollution has grown in the public consciousness. Plastic particles smaller than 5 millimetre (microplastics; MPs) and 1 micrometre (nanoplastics; NPs) are the most abundant and ubiquitous form of solid waste across the globe. In humans, the principle site of exposure to, and subsequent accumulation of, MP/NPs is the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) through the food and water we consume.

There are a number of examples where the bioaccumulation of MPs/NPs leads to disease including asbestosis and mesothelioma, coal dust in miner’s lung and cotton dust in brown lung disease. This chronic exposure, and subsequent accumulation, leads to changes in tissue structure, alterations in tissue repair and change in function. The effect of the bioaccumulation of MP/NPs in epithelial linings is likely to be subtle, requiring sensitive techniques to investigate and model the impact on fibrosis and premature tissue ageing. This can be achieved by examining the production of RNA inside cells, and the subsequent release of growth factors, cytokines, and cell-derived vesicles (i.e., exosomes) in the cell supernatant.

It is known that MPs/NPs are actively transported by gastrointestinal epithelial cells and that they interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients such as iron. However, what is not known is whether this active transport process has any impact on the immune system and physiology of the gut. Therefore, in order to understand the effects of MPs/NPs accumulation, we propose to develop an epithelial cell model mimicking the lining of the GIT. Following exposure to MP/NPs this project aims to:

1. Investigate the ability of MPs/NPs to translocate across the epithelial lining, relating findings to chemical composition, charge and shape
2. Determine the physiological response of gut epithelia, by assaying for changes in cytokine, growth factor, RNA profile and exosome production in both cells and supernatant
3. Establish the effect of released factors (cytokines, growth factor, RNA and exosomes) from exposed gut epithelia on key physiological processes, in particular immune function, fibrosis and tissue ageing.

This exciting cross-faculty collaboration draws upon the extensive experience of Professor Selim Cellek (Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care), Dr Dannielle Green (Animal and Environmental Biology, Faculty of Science & Engineering), and Dr Paul Dyer (Biomedical Science, Faculty of Science & Engineering) in the areas of fibroproliferative diseases, environmental microplastics, nanoparticles and exosome biology, respectively.

Where you’ll study:

Cambridge (

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Biomedical Science PhD ( In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Funding Notes

This project is self-funded.
Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website (View Website) as they become available.

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.

Your enquiry has been emailed successfully

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.