Investigating the cardio-pulmonary impact of airborne nanoplastics

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Dr C Bussy, Prof Holly Shiels  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

There is growing evidence that humans are exposed to incidental microplastics and nanoplastics (MNPL) particles through inhalation and that the small size of these particles may allow for bioaccumulation and retention in the body. In addition, plastics are a known source of exposure to chemicals (ex. bisphenol A (BPA), phthalate esters, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)). However, information on the impact of MNPL (and associated chemicals) inhalation on the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, the two main systems impacted by air pollution, is limited. Moreover, whether MNPLs are able to translocate from the lungs into secondary locations via blood or lymphatic vessels is unknown. There is also limited knowledge about which chemical (surface chemistry, charge, origin, and adsorbed compounds) or physical (size, shape, agglomeration state, rigidity) features of MNPLs may influence their toxicological profile in the lungs and beyond. Using relevant in vitro and in vivo models, this project will aim to address some of these knowledge gaps. In particular, the candidate will first assess the macrophage response to MNPLs using series of materials varying in size, shape,

composition, origin (fossil fuel based vs. bioplastics) to determine which features may lead to the most adverse response. This data set will be used to define which materials should be prioritised to assess in vivo the impact of MNPL inhalation on the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. In addition to their biological impact, the candidate will assess the fate (distribution, degradation and elimination) of these selected MNPL particles after inhalation, focusing on primary and secondary organs of accumulation. This project will be associated to an ongoing EU project (PLASTICHEAL, and network of EU projects (CUSP,


Applicants must have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second class UK honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a relevant subject area. Applicants with experience in biomaterials, pharmacy, toxicology, or chemistry or with an interest in material sciences and environmental health are encouraged to apply.

Before you Apply 

Applicants must make direct contact with preferred supervisors before applying. It is your responsibility to make arrangements to meet with potential supervisors, prior to submitting a formal online application.  

How to Apply 

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. On the online application form select the appropriate subject title.

For international students, we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Your application form must be accompanied by a number of supporting documents by the advertised deadlines. Without all the required documents submitted at the time of application, your application will not be processed and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered. If you have any queries regarding making an application please contact our admissions team [Email Address Removed]  

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion  

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website  

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Environmental Sciences (13) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 2 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website


Vethaak AD, Legler J. Microplastics and human health. Science. 2021; 672-674
Zarus GM, Muianga C, Hunter CM, Pappas RS. A review of data for quantifying human exposures to micro and nanoplastics and potential health risks. Sci Total Environ. 2021; 756:144010.
Amato-Lourenço LF, Dos Santos Galvão L, de Weger LA, Hiemstra PS, Vijver MG, Mauad T. An emerging class of air pollutants: Potential effects of microplastics to respiratory human health? Sci Total Environ. 2020; 749:141676.
Wright SL, Levermore JM, Kelly FJ. Raman Spectral Imaging for the Detection of Inhalable Microplastics in Ambient Particulate Matter Samples. Environ Sci Technol. 2019; 53(15):8947-8956.
Wright SL, Kelly FJ. Plastic and Human Health: A Micro Issue? Environ Sci Technol. 2017; 51(12):6634-6647
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