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Funded PhD Opportunity

An interdisciplinary approach to tackling deep bone infections

Subject: Engineering


Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a global challenge, which if not addressed, could see as many as 10 million deaths annually by 2050. Within this there is a significant unmet clinical need with respect to the treatment of deep bone infections. If normal antibiotic treatments prove unsuccessful then there is a risk of the development of chronic osteomyelitis, which requires a more invasive and expensive intervention. Furthermore, using high doses of antibiotics often carries the risk of significant side effects for patients. Osteomyelitis currently affects approximately 10–100/100,000 of the population per year and is indeed a life threatening condition and is associated with a reduced quality of life. Osteomyelitis is predominantly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, which is responsible for almost 2/3 of all the reported chronic cases. Other Bacilli have also been implicated (and it is suggested that 29% of infections are polymicrobial).

Notwithstanding the possibility of AMR there is a clear need to develop better treatments for bone infections. Currently several different products, (incorporating antibiotics) are available for localised treatment of infected bone.  However, more than 90% of the drug remains trapped in the system and is of no therapeutic value (and must be removed after treatment).

The core objective of this novel and ambitious project is to develop new bone substitute materials, based on hydroxyapatite (the main mineral constituent of bone), doped with rare earth elements (for example, cerium, selenium), which have been shown to have significant antimicrobial potential. The key aspect here is to not only deliver localised antimicrobial treatments that tackle all of the issues highlighted above, but also retain their ability to enhance bone repair. Specifically, the project here will focus on delivering new materials that are biomimetic (in that they mirror the complex chemistry of human bone). However, by increasing the concentrations of these elements, significant enhancements in the bone graft performance are possible. New additive manufacturing technologies will be employed to deliver the grafts, which will be tested using appropriate in vitro techniques and bioassays to test for antimicrobial efficacy.

This project is interdisciplinary in nature, utilising the expertise and facilities available already within NIBEC. Further to this, the project will be jointly supervised by a new academic member of staff (Dr. Elena Mancuso), who has specific skills in the area of additive manufacturing. The PhD student recruited will undertake this project through a number of well-structured and managed work packages under the joint supervision of the team.

The approach proposed here aligns directly with the 5&50 strategic plan and cuts across the themes of both sustainability (through the development of novel materials) and healthy communities (through tackling AMR). Further support and the potential for clinical input will also be available via the NI AMR Network. The major impact of the study will be revolutionise how we deal with AMR in human bone. The systems produced will provide localised and cost-effective antimicrobial materials that retain the ability to enhance bone growth and overcome the shortcomings in current therapies for bone tissue infections.

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
Mid March 2018

Contact supervisor

Dr Adrian Boyd


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