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Surgical incisions without surgical site infections? Innovative antimicrobial materials to prevent infection after surgical procedures

Faculty of Health Sciences

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Dr M E Barbour , Dr Darryl Hill Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project


Applications are invited a new self-funded PhD studentship to explore and develop novel materials to facilitate closure of surgical wounds and prevent surgical site infection. The successful applicant will have a background in biomedical or materials science and will be actively seeking an interdisciplinary project and the opportunity to broaden their skill base. As the project will be conducted across two faculties, two research groups and several laboratories, good time management skills are essential.

The clinical challenge

An incision is made as part of millions of surgical procedures every day. While cleansing the surgical site prior to surgery reduces microbial load, it is not possible to fully eliminate bacteria from the local environment, and as a result nearly 5% of patients who undergo surgery will develop a surgical site infection (SSI) [Data: NICE 2008]. Certain surgical procedures bring significantly higher risk of SSI, such as colon surgery (9.5%) [Data: ECDC 2016] and orthognathic surgery (15%) [Data: Miloro 2017]. SSI are associated with longer hospital stays, additional surgical procedures and other medical interventions, greater likelihood of admission to ICU, and elevated mortality rates.

For most SSI, 80-100% of patients are treated with systemic antibiotics [Data: ECDC 2016]. In the context of the global crisis of antibiotic resistance, this is not a sustainable approach, and prevention using non-antibiotic technologies must become the primary defence.

The project

The aim of this project is to devise and test novel antimicrobial medical devices for wound closure that prevent SSI. The student will explore both sutures and wound adhesives and will make use of conventional and novel antimicrobial substances, without recourse to antibiotics. The student will employ a wide range of fabrication and testing techniques to gain a broad and multidisciplinary understanding of their novel devices.

The student will prepare and formulate sutures and adhesives and compare these with commercial examples. S/he will work within a structured programme but will have scope to contribute substantially to the development of the project as it progresses. The project scope includes materials design and manufacture, the choice and means of functionalisation with antimicrobials, application of conventional microbiological assays and the development of novel project-specific assays, and exploration of cytocompatibility of the devices.

This challenging project sits at the interface between biomedical and materials sciences. It will appeal to an individual who aspires to challenge themselves and to learn a broad range of techniques outside of their existing experience. Owing to the multidisciplinary nature of the project, it is accepted that the successful applicant will not have prior knowledge of all required techniques, and full training will be provided. The successful candidate will have a first degree to a high standard in biomedical or biomaterials sciences, or may be a clinician seeking to build a research career in a medically-relevant field of discovery and applications science.

The environment and advisory team

The project will be jointly supervised by Dr Michele Barbour and Dr Darryl Hill, with collaborative links with other academics across the University. The student will be a member of both the Barbour and Hill groups, and will have access to the broad range of facilities and personal development opportunities available to the postgraduate research community across the University.

Dr Michele Barbour is a Reader in Biomaterials and Deputy Head of Bristol Dental School in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Her principal research interest is anti-infective biomaterials for medical devices.

Dr Darryl Hill is a Senior Lecturer in Microbiology in the Faculty of Life Sciences. His principal research interests are the development of infectious disease and interactions between bacterial and mammalian cells.

The University of Bristol is ranked among the world’s leading research-intensive universities. Our reputation is built upon our core disciplinary strength and breadth, and we have a significant reputation for multidisciplinary research and entrepreneurship. We pride ourselves on our commitment to critical enquiry and research excellence, and to realising the impact of our research on society. In the most recent UK research excellence assessment exercise, Research Excellence Framework 2014, 36% of Bristol’s research received the top 4* rating, defined by the reviewing body as ‘world leading’. This is six per cent above the sector average, placing Bristol 10th in the UK’s Russell Group.

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