Self-funded PhD opportunities

Developing Innovative strategies to treating life-threatening bacterial infections: molecular mechanisms to ensure long-term healthy outcomes from faecal transplants

  • Application end date: Applications accepted all year round
  • Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
  • Department: School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences
  • PhD Supervisor: Sarah Fouch and James Brown

Antibiotics have been central to human health and longevity. However, there is a lack of new antibiotics being developed due to their low financial returns. As a result, there is growing alarm regarding the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to the extent that it is now recognised by the World Health Organisation as the greatest threat to mankind.

The current project proposes a radical solution; instead of developing newer and costlier antibiotics to treat infections, which are effective only for a short period, why not alter the composition of the bacteria causing the infection in the first place, thereby decreasing the infectious insult.

Such strategies are possible with regions of the body which are normally populated with micro-organisms, such as the intestine. Indeed, the human intestine harbours more than 1000 different species of bacteria which are essential for health. However, any changes to this natural ecosystem, alters the balance of healthy and pathogenic bacteria, manifesting in devastating consequences, such as the life threatening and difficult to treat infection Clostridium difficile (C.diff). Importantly, C.diff infections account for 2053 of deaths in English and Welsh hospitals each year, thus making their treatment an unmet medical priority.

Patients suffering with such severe infections have benefitted from faecal transplants from healthy donors. This results in the repopulation of the intestinal microbiota, thereby normalising the balance of various bacterial strains. Currently QA hospital carry out two to three faecal transplants a month with success and a cost saving of around £10,000 per patient. However, we do not know what the long term effects this treatment has on this complex microbial community, as this is equally important for long-term health. Therefore, this project, in collaboration with NHS services, aims to investigate the changes in the intestinal microbiota prior to and after faecal transplant procedures for C. diff, with the objectives of determining the long-term changes in GI microbiota, and thus the continued health and wellbeing of the patients.

Microbial samples will be collected from patients, suffering resistant C.Diff infections, prior to and after a faecal transplant. We will then use a range of cutting edge techniques, ranging from molecular biology, microbiology to high performance chemical analyses to probe the changing nature of the GI microbiota. This will allow us to directly address any long-term deficits thereby preventing the onset of new infections, resulting in a significant saving in terms of patient and healthcare costs.

Funding notes:

This PhD opportunity is available to self-funded students. Bench fees may apply. For more information please contact the project supervisor.

How to apply:

To apply or make an enquiry, please visit postgraduate research: Biomedical, Biomolecular and Pharmacy

All applications should use our standard application forms and follow the instructions given under the ‘Research Degrees’ heading on the following webpages: http://www.port.ac.uk/application-fees-and-funding/applying-postgraduate/#rd.

When applying please note the project code - PHBM3080217