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Development of an in vitro nebulisation assay for use with defence pathogens

College of Health & Life Sciences - Studentships

Location:  Aston University Main Campus
Basis:  Full Time
Closing Date:  23.59 hours GMT on Wednesday 01 February 2023
Reference:  R220779
Release Date:  Monday 14 November 2022

PhD Studentship (3 years) 

Development of an in vitro nebulisation assay for use with defence pathogens 

Department: College of Health and Life Sciences

Contract Type: Fixed Term

Basis: Full Time

Closing Date: 1st February 2023 

Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Cox

Project Reference: HLS_Cox_DSTL

Key words: Defence pathogens; Lung infection; Nebulisation; Antibiotic discovery 

Applications are invited for a three-year Postgraduate studentship, supported by the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the College of Health and Life Sciences, to be undertaken within the Biosciences Research Group at Aston University.  The successful applicant will join an established experimental group working on antibiotic drug discovery and development.  

The position is available to start in April 2023, subject to negotiation.

Financial Support

This studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the home/EU fees rate, plus a maintenance allowance of £17,668 in 2022/3 (subject to eligibility). This application is only available to Home students.

Overseas Applicants

[This application is not available to Overseas students.]

Background to the Project

This project involves the development of an in vitro, animal-free nebulisation assay to assess the efficacy of new drugs and formulations against defence bacterial pathogens that pose a threat by respiratory infection. This 3-year PhD studentship will build on previous work from the Cox lab at Aston University, to develop and test this platform for inclusion in DSTL antimicrobial development pipeline as a prerequisite to in vivo efficacy assessment.

Bacterial pathogens of interest to the defence community share a number of common characteristics including a low infectious dose by the respiratory route and an ability to result in acute lethal, or debilitating, infections. Notable examples include Burkholderia pseudomallei, Francisella tularensis and Coxiella burnetii, the causative agents of melioidosis, tularemia and Q-fever respectively. They are generally difficult to treat and have limited treatment options. They are all zoonotic pathogens that are endemics in some parts of the world and therefore also have clinical relevance to human health. Development of novel antibiotics, or adjunct combinational therapies, that enhance current options for treating pneumonic infections caused by these pathogens would provide value to both defence and clinical research communities.

One of the challenges in developing therapeutics is the rational in vitro down selection of promising candidates, particularly with respects of which ones to transition into in vivo models. Furthermore, how best to ensure that the animal models employed for pre-clinical screening are predictive of therapeutic outcomes in people. The aim of this project to address these challenges.

We will first aim to develop a quantitative readout for the previously developed qualitative assay and use this for assessment of surrogate BSL-2 strains of defence pathogens. These will be assessed against nebulised known antibiotic formulations at the equivalent human dose. 

This assay will then undergo further development to include infected macrophages, to establish persistence of the organisms in infected alveolar macrophages during nebulisation treatment. Cells will be used from different species (e.g. mouse, NHPs, humans), producing a methodology that would allow in vitro extrapolation of therapeutic benefit that translates from animal model to humans. This will be validated using a reference antibiotic for which data sets are already available. DSTL will provide data for the performance of these antibiotics in animal models.

The continuation of this project will involve adapting the assay and validation under BSL-3 conditions including defence pathogens of interest (F. tularensis, B. pseudomallei and C. burnetii) with and without macrophages.

Person Specification

The successful applicant should have been awarded, or expect to achieve, a Masters degree in a relevant subject with a 60% or higher weighted average, and/or a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution) in a disciplined aligned to the following subject areas: Microbiology, Human Biology, Biochemistry, or Biomedical science.   Preferred skill requirements include practical experience of microbiology research and candidates with prior experience of working with BSL-3 pathogens are particularly encouraged to apply. Applicants for this PhD position must be British Nationals to be progressed in the recruitment process. 

Contact information

For formal enquiries about this project contact Dr Jonathan Cox by email at j.a.g.cox@aston.ac.uk

Submitting an application

As part of the application, you will need to supply:

  • A copy of your current CV
  • Copies of your academic qualifications for your Bachelor degree, and Masters degree (if studied); this should include both certificates and transcripts, and must be translated in to English
  • A research proposal statement*
  • A personal statement
  • Two academic references
  • Proof of your English Language proficiency

Details of how to submit your application, and the necessary supporting documents can be found here.  

Please select “Research Biomedical Sciences” from the application form options.

The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement. An original proposal is not required as the initial scope of the project has been defined, candidates should take this opportunity to detail how their knowledge and experience will benefit the project and should also be accompanied by a brief review of relevant research literature.

Please include the supervisor’s name, project title and project reference in your Personal Statement.

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at pgr_admisssions@aston.ac.uk 


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Aston University is an equal opportunities employer and welcomes applications from all sections of the community.  It promotes equality and diversity in all aspects of its work. We are committed to the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charter-marks/athena-swan/, recognised by a silver award, and we are a Disability Confident Employer Level 2. We strive to have robust inclusivity strategies in place, including race and sexual orientation, to encourage colleagues to have the confidence and freedom to be themselves in the workplace. For more information, visit: https://www2.aston.ac.uk/about/inclusive-aston

As users of the disability confident scheme, we guarantee to interview all disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria for the vacancy.

If you require the job details document or an application form in an alternative format please contact the recruitment team at recruitment@aston.ac.uk.


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