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Understanding how Alveolar Immune Barriers Sense and Communicate during Nanoparticle Inhalation


National Heart and Lung Institute

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Dr J Bernardino de la Serna No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

3-year NHLI-funded PhD post – starting April 2021

Applications are invited from candidates with a Master’s degree (Merit and above) in Biomedical Sciences, Biophysics, Cell biology, Nanoparticle Material Science, Immunology or a related discipline, for a 3 year PhD.

The studentship will be funded for 3 years with a tax free bursary of £18,000 p.a.. Tuition fees at the Home rate will also be paid.

Summary of Research

In no more than 20 years, the second/third cause of respiratory diseases is predicted to be due to hazardous inhalation representing a high burden to the healthcare systems worldwide. Animal studies revealed that pollutant nanoparticles (NP) cause inflammation and cross the alveolar barrier. The NPs small size (PM2.5) allows them to cross a biological film named lung surfactant (LS) and the alveolar epithelium. The alveolocapillary barrier, where gas exchange takes place is the first immunological barrier against harmful inhaled pathogens and toxicants. Pathological and toxicological effects compromising the physical and chemical properties of the LS driven by NP inhalation are under investigated. There is also a need of understanding at the molecular level how NP can cross the epithelial barrier once passed the LS.

This PhD aims at understanding the mechanisms involved in the Immunological Airways Barriers Molecular Sensing and Remodelling during Nanoparticle Inhalation. For this purpose, we will employ a bottom-up approach, starting with synthetic models of LS and NPs interaction under quasi-physiological alveolar dynamics; we will then, employ natural isolated LS and clinical surfactant; later on, we will develop a cellular co-culture models to engineer the lower airways focusing on epithelial barrier integrity and lung surfactant homeostasis; and finally, a lung-on-a-chip model. This project will impact the scientific community working in respiratory toxicology and pharmacology. A better understanding on how NP interact, cross and compromise our breathing airways will eventually pave the way towards better and more precise design of respiratory pharmacological drugs.

Imperial College London provides excellent opportunities for research students' training. All students benefit from a full programme of training in research and transferable skills organised through the Graduate School, the quality of which has been recognised several times at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards.

The student will be based in the Lung Cell Biology Group within the section of airways disease within the National Heart and Lung Institute (http://www1.imperial.ac.uk/nhli), which provides an exciting environment, with state of the art facilities and excellent opportunities for PhD student training including research seminars. This project will be carried out in close collaboration with other members from the Airways Disease and the Cell Biology and Functional Genomics Section with the Faculty of Medicine.

How to Apply

Applicants must hold, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second-class undergraduate degree or UK equivalent, along with a Masters, both in an appropriate subject from a recognised academic institution. To apply please send a CV, a one page personal statement, and the names and addresses of at least two academic referees to Dr Jorge Bernardino de la Serna by email on [Email Address Removed].

Please note that candidates must fulfil College admissions criteria.

Application deadline: 31st Jan 2021.

Funding Notes

The studentship will be funded for 3 years with a tax free bursary of £18,000 p.a.. Tuition fees at the Home will also be paid.


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