Postgraduate research

How does air pollution increase the risk of bacterial respiratory infection?

Qualification: PhD

Department: Respiratory Sciences

Application deadline: 8 May 2023

Start date: 25 September 2023



Project description

Air pollution is a major risk to human health, exacerbating systemic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Additionally, exposure to air-borne particulate pollutants has serious impact on acute and chronic infectious diseases (e.g. pneumonia, chronic rhinosinusitis), antimicrobial resistance and disruption of human microbiomes. 

Our interdisciplinary research shows that air-borne particulate pollutants impact directly on bacteria to potentiate infection, irrespective of the effect of pollutants on the host. We found that physical interaction of bacteria with the particulate pollutant, black carbon, results in an unusual pattern of gene expression, increasing colonisation of abiotic and biotic surfaces including the respiratory tract. 

However, understanding of how air pollutants alter bacterial interaction with the human respiratory tract is severely lacking.

This aim of this project is to increase understanding of the biological mechanisms involved in the relationship between bacterial pathogens and respiratory tract health and validate clinical associations that can lead to novel therapeutic strategies for COPD and other chronic infectious diseases.

Advances in diagnostic development, and novel non-drug-based interventions could be transformed through exploiting a fundamental understanding of environment-bacteria-host dynamics. 

Our objectives are to:

  1. Establish the impact of inhaled external influences (e.g air pollutants) on host-pathogen interaction. 
  2. Understand the mechanisms involved in the interplay between air pollution and bacteria on respiratory tract integrity and immune responses.
  3. Use clinical samples to validate biomarkers identified from the discovery science associated with exacerbation of respiratory infection, and exposure to environmental pollutants. 

The student will be part of a lively and friendly interdisciplinary research group and will be trained in a wide range of methodologies including molecular microbiology, mammalian tissue culture, atmospheric and particulate chemistry, and advanced microscopy. Additionally, the student will benefit from active research project meetings with respiratory and infectious disease clinicians and chemists, and association with the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and Health Protection Research Unit, and UK Health Science Agency.



This 3 year PhD Studentship provides:

  • UK tuition fee waiver
  • Annual stipend at UKRI rates. TBC for 2023/24 (£17,668 for 2022/23)

*International candidates should note that they will be required to cover the difference between the UK (Home) and International tuition fees each year (this will be in the region of £17,000 per annum and will be confirmed at the point of offer).

*Please note that this project is competition funded.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor's Degree 2:1 or better (or overseas equivalent) in a relevant subject.

The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable.

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiries

Project enquiries

Application enquiries

How to apply

How to apply

To apply, please use the 'Apply' button at the bottom of the page and select September 2023 from the dropdown menu.

With your application, please include:

  • CV.
  • Personal statement explaining your interest in the project, your experience and why we should consider you.
  • Degree Certificates and Transcripts of study already completed and if possible transcript to date of study currently being undertaken.
  • Evidence of English language proficiency if applicable.
  • In the reference section please enter the contact details of your two academic referees in the boxes provided or upload letters of reference if already available.
  • In the funding section please specify that you wish to be considered for the College of Life Sciences Studentship.
  • In the research proposal section please provide the name of the project supervisors and the project title (a proposal is not required).



UK and *International applicants

*International candidates should note that they will be required to cover the difference between the UK (Home) and International tuition fees each year (this will be in the region of £17,000 per annum and will be confirmed at the point of offer).

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