Human Health & Emerging Environmental Contaminants (3 PhD Scholarships)

University of Hull

To celebrate the University's research successes, the University of Hull is offering a full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarship or International Fees Bursary for candidates applying for each of the following projects.

Closing date: - Thursday 8th February 2018

Studentships will start on 17th September 2018

For further information about this cluster please contact Prof. Jeanette Rotchell ( in the first instance.

Summary of Cluster

The focus of this interdisciplinary project is to identify how emerging environmental contaminants impact human health. Exposure to environmental contaminants can impact upon the earliest stages of embryonic development in ways that may predispose the offspring to key health threats and perhaps increase susceptibility to subsequent environmental exposures. Later life exposures, for example to air pollutants, can have negative impacts on human health, ranging from a decreased quality of life caused by the exacerbation of respiratory illnesses such as asthma to early death resulting from an increased risk of cancer.

Working as part of a dedicated team, we will explore, the impact of environmental contaminants on early human development, identifying the key molecular and cellular changes induced following exposures. The implications of the key molecular and cellular changes identified in the evolution of adult diseases of the lungs, female reproductive tract and prostate gland will be investigated. Transgenerational exposure in different countries will be modelled to help understand the long-term impact of environmental contaminants on human health. For further information about this cluster please contact Prof. Jeanette Rotchell ( in the first instance.

Summary of PhD Project 1

How environmental contaminants affect the reproductive systems

Emerging evidence suggests that high occupational or ambient residential exposure to environmental contaminants affects the reproductive systems of men and women, impacting on embryonic development and increasing aggressive cancer risk. Examples of this human toxicity include exposure to phthalates, neonicotinoids, dioxins, epoxy resin, the plastics agent bisphenol A, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons consumed as part of cooked-meat diets and organophosphates/organochlorines used in agricultural pesticides. The aim of this project is to compare the way in which exposure to pathological mechanisms that link these environmental contaminants can modify epithelial cells of the male and female reproductive systems leading to reproductive dysfunction and predisposition to increased aggressive cancer risk. The student will use novel three-dimensional epithelial cell models developed in Hull and state-of-the-art high-content fluorescent and live-cell microscopy to catalogue the molecular and cellular changes associated with female/male reproductive organs following acute/chronic exposure to known and emerging environmental contaminants. Furthermore, the phenotype of these crucial epithelia will be explored using biochemical, bioanalytical and molecular approaches. The impact of altered epithelial physiology on gametes and early embryos will also be explored. The data generated in this project will inform our understanding about the role of environmental contaminants in changing the physiology of reproductive organs, including the window between fertilisation and blastocyst formation during development when embryos are ‘totipotent’ and the transition of adult glandular epithelia to an aggressive metastatic state.

Recommended reading: Johansson et al 2017 Nature Reviews in Endocrinology 13:400-14; Silva et al 2016 Reviews in Environmental Health 31:311-27; Simintiras et al 2017 Reproduction 153:23-33; Simintiras & Sturmey 2017 Reproductive Toxicology 71:63-70; Rodriguez-Teja et al 2016 Journal of Visualised Experiments 115:e54230; Rodriguez-Teja et al 2016 Journal of Pathology 235:581-92

Summary of PhD Project 2

How emerging environmental contaminants affect the airways

Environmental pollutants such as diesel exhaust particulates, ozone and cigarette smoke can contribute to the development, exacerbation and progression of respiratory pathologies, including asthma, chronic cough, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), fibrosis and cancer. Emerging environmental contaminants include the ultrafine particles present in 3D printer dust, nanoparticles associated with the growth of nanotechnology and microplastics released by cosmetics and clothing. The aim of this project is to identify how emerging environmental contaminants aberrantly affect the airways. This will ensure that we have a clear and pre-emptive understanding about how respiratory diseases evolve and progress. The student will apply a novel model of the human airways recently developed in Hull and measure changes in airway tone, secreted proteins and gene/protein expression caused by acute/chronic exposure to known and emerging environmental contaminants. The data generated will help to identify the molecular and cellular mechanisms that link emerging environmental contaminants to the development, exacerbation and progression of chronic lung diseases in exposed and susceptible individuals.

Recommended reading: Toskala & Kennedy 2015 International Forum on Allergy and Rhinology 5:S11-6; Gatford et al 2017 J Reprod Immunol 123:88-93.

Summary of PhD Project 3

Health inequalities and emerging environmental contaminants - Places and People

Known environmental contaminants like air-pollution, heavy metals or pesticides are well documented to affect human health and their spatial/social health inequalities are evidenced. On the other hand, the relationship between emerging environmental contaminants (EECs) and human health is less well understood with EEC impacts varying depending on multiple variables. This studentship will explore the complexity in geo-spatial and socio-economic scales of EECs, and ultimately deliver stakeholder relevant outputs such as indices and policy recommendation in regards to EECs and their potential impact on human health. Special consideration will be given to cumulative risks through the life course.

In the first year the student will conduct a systematic review, including a data audit and building of a database for subsequent work. The review will in the first instance focus on EECs researched in the other cluster studentships (3D printer dust, microplastics, nanoparticles, estrogens), their global distribution, and effect on human health throughout the life course. Depending on the findings of the systematic review and the interest of the student subsequent work could be to a) develop UK, European or global indices which overlay EEC exposure and socioeconomic information, to help to identify human vulnerability to EECs on a spatial scale; b) develop an agent based model combining exposures across the life course, and compare health risks between socioeconomic groups and geographical areas or c) develop a framework on how to best research the impact of EECs on human health.

Recommended reading: 1) WHO 2009 Environment and health risks: the influence and effects of social inequalities 2) Lei, et al., 2015. Biomed Res Int, 2015, 404796. 3) Richardson & Kimura, 2017. Environ Technol Innovations, 8:40-56.

Applicants must have at least a 2.1 undergraduate degree in a relevant scientific area, together with relevant research experience, and should explain why they feel their experience is relevant when preparing their application. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree and/or Masters level qualification.

To apply for these Scholarships please click on the Apply button below.

Full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£14,553 in 2017/18) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Masters level Certificate, or Diploma, in Research Training, in addition to their research degree.

Successful applicants will be informed of the award as soon as possible and by 2nd April 2018 at the latest.

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