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Student research project

Supervisor(s): Dr Patrick Lelliott and Dr Alexander Pinto

Exploring how exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics influence health and the risk of cardiometabolic disease.

Project summary

One in six deaths globally are caused by pollution, largely due to its impact on cardiovascular disease. This estimate excludes many types of pollutants for which no data is available, with plastic pollution a prime example. Plastic waste degrades over decades to microplastics (1µm–5mm), and nanoplastics (<1µm). Micro and nanoplastics (MNPs) are pervasive and increasing exponentially in the environment. Humans are exposed to these daily, they have been detected within the heart, and have recently been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Despite this, due to a lack of models which recapitulate real-world MNP exposure, we know virtually nothing as to how MNPs impact health.

We have developed a system for controlled MNP production in the laboratory which mimics and intensifies the major forces that degrade plastic in the environment, creating a robust source of MNPs to use for research purposes. This project would explore the health effects of MNPs with a focus on the immune response and cardiometabolic disease.

As very little is known in this field, this project has wide range of aims which can be tailored to specific interests of the applicant. Examples include:

  • Preclinical models of MNP exposure and comorbidities. Using animal models to explore the impact of MNP exposure on cardiometabolic health, with potential to combine with models of atherosclerosis, diabetes, or other cardiometabolic disorders to measure compounding effects.
  • Single cell sequencing to measure the impact of MNPs on the heart.
  • Measuring immune responses to MNPs with a focus on neutrophils.
  • Epidemiology studies combining MNP exposure measurements with clinical outcomes.
  • Advancement of MNP exposure models and technology development for production, tracking, and detection of particles in animal models and clinical samples.

Related methods, skills or technologies

The project is suitable for an Masters, Honours or PhD student and will involve applying various skills and techniques, including:

  • analytical chemistry
  • animal models
  • bioinformatics
  • data analysis
  • cell culture
  • flow cytometry
  • imaging
  • immunocytochemistry
  • immunology
  • molecular biology.

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