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Solving the problem of antibiotic resistance with smart polymers: Photophysics

Faculty of Life Sciences

About the Project

The problem of the emergence of increasing numbers of resistant strains of bacteria is a major global problem. Combined with population growth and increased mobility means that many millions are at risk from previously preventable diseases by 2030. The solutions are based in: developing rapid diagnostics; new therapies and improved stewardship. Our aim is to provide mass produced cost-effective diagnostic devices based on smart polymer technology that can be deployed in any situation in the developed and developing world.

In response to these major issues we have developed cost effective diagnostic systems based on the response of branched polymers to the binding of bacteria.1-6 Improving diagnostics that are cost-effective and provide rapid indications of infection can make a significant difference to antibiotic use and facilitate a One Health approach, in which healthcare, lifestyle, food, agriculture and environment are all considered. The key aim is to obtain rapid (less than 1 hour) diagnosis in the field/community. We have partially achieved this using branched stimulus responsive polymers and empirically we have developed an overall theory around the mechanism of their performance.

The essential parts of this theory are:

1. Branched polymers in water can bind selectively to biological targets and binding change the solvation state so that polymer segments loose water and pass through a segmental coil-to-globule transition (sTc-g).
2. The sTc-g can be detected by using solvatochromic dyes tethered to the polymer segment undergoing the sTc-g.
3. After binding the polymer interface is in a state that promotes further adhesion of the bacteria.

Photophysical studies using time resolved techniques and external quenching are essential further optimisations of these systems taking into account architecture, monomer structure and functionality. The work will involve photophysical measurements (fluorescence), DOSY NMR spectroscopy, synthesis and detailed characterisation as well measurements with bacteria.

The project will suit a student with a strong interest in physical chemistry, photophysics and polymer physics. You will have a masters level qualification including a significant research project in chemistry, materials science, physics, biophysics or related subjects and you will have an aptitude for precise analytical work with good communication skills.

Funding Notes

This is a self-funded project; applicants will be expected to pay their own fees or have access to suitable third-party funding, such as the Doctoral Loan from Student Finance. In addition to the university's standard tuition fees, bench fees of £5000 per year also apply to this project.

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