University of Liverpool PhD Studentship: Bioinspired nanotopographies to control bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation

Application Deadline: 18 February 2021

Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

This is a highly interdisciplinary project at the University of Liverpool sits at the interface between materials sciences and microbiology. The studentship will provide the candidate with a wide range of skills in basic science and translation that will strategically position them for a career in biomedical sciences/biomedical engineering. The student will have the opportunity to attend University-run courses in relevant subject areas, as well as to interact with students and postdoctoral researchers from a wide range of scientific backgrounds.

By 2050, it is predicted that the rise of resistant strains of bacteria and the ever-growing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) will be the cause of 10 million deaths annually, and will burden the global economy by £64 trillion. One of the leading factors for this surge of resistant superbugs is the misuse of current antibiotics in both clinical and agricultural settings. Further problems arise when bacteria are able to irreversibly attach to a surface, which leads to microcolony formation and eventually biofilm maturation. Indwelling medical devices, such as catheters, stents, dental implants, and orthopaedic prostheses, are susceptible to bacterial adhesion and frequently incur biofilm-associated infection. Biofilm-associated bacteria are significantly more difficult to treat compared to their planktonic counterparts, with some estimates of their tolerance to antibiotics to be between 102 and 103 times higher. As such, it is important that alternative solutions to combat biofilm-associated infections are developed.

A promising alternative to current antibiotics and disinfectants in combatting biofilm infections is by physically altering the nanotopography to form surfaces unfavourable to bacterial adhesion. This strategy of developing anti-adhesive surfaces takes inspiration from nature: shark skin is made up of tooth-like micro-scales that promote low drag and do not allow fouling organisms to attach to the surface. The nanotopography of the lotus leaf consists of small cone-like protuberances that result in a superhydrophobic surface. On these surfaces water droplets remain spherical and pick up bacteria and other contaminants, as they roll off. Surface topoography can even be bactericidal as in the case of the cicada wing in which sharp nanopillars pierce the bacterial membrane.

Surface topography-based strategies are gaining popularity as alternatives to or to work in synergy with chemical strategies to impart an antibacterial effect. This project will investigate several nanotopographical fabrication techniques to develop a fundamental understanding how topography can control antifouling and antimicrobial behaviour. The surfaces will be characterised using advanced spectroscopy and imaging techniques. Biological analysis will take place with several bacterial single clinical isolates and finally multi-species biofilm model. This fundamental knowledge will then be used to develop antimicrobial/antifouling coatings (without the use of antibiotics) for medical device industry.

Interested candidates should apply via the University of Liverpool’s online application system.

For information and informal enquiries please contact Dr Raechelle D’Sa.