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Wound healing, infection and the wound microbiome

Funded PhD Studentship to develop insects as models study wound healing, infection and the wound microbiome

The McCarthy Lab at Brunel University London is excited to offer a fully-funded PhD studentship to develop insects as models to study how wound infection impacts wound healing and survival prognosis. This studentship will use state of the art in vivo methodologies coupled with host-pathogen transcriptomics to identify key factors regulating wound infection progression.

Based in the College of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, and funded by NC3Rs; the studentship offers an annual London rate stipend of £17,609 plus Home/EU tuition fees, for a maximum of 36 months. The start date is 1st of October 2021.


Almost all people at some point in their lives will experience a burn. Many of these burns are minor and can be remedied with a simple plaster to prevent infection. However, for individuals whose burns are large or deep enough to require a hospital visit, they run a higher risk of the burn wound becoming infected. In fact, infection is responsible for 75% of deaths among burn patients. This exceptionally high mortality rate has meant studying burn wound infection is a top priority. However, due to the physiological complexity of a burn wound, wound healing and infection cannot be adequately studied in vitro. Our previous work has developed for the first time an invertebrate model of burn wound trauma and concomitant infection using the greater wax moth larvae, Galleria mellonella. We have demonstrated that the G. mellonella burn wound model has remarkable similarities with mammalian burn wound models with key paradigms such as the role of fluid resuscitation in survival, and the link between percentage burn surface area and survival prognosis being conserved. We have also demonstrated that these larval burn wounds can be infected topically by leading burn wound pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Acinetobacter baumannii, replicating the mode of infection seen in the hospital environment. Our work has also shown that the infection progression cycle matches what is seen in human cases, with biofilm formation, local tissue necrosis, dissemination from the burn wound site, and ultimately mortality.

The prospective PhD student will develop this model of infection further to gain insights into the temporal kinetics underpinning bacterial colonisation of the burn site. They will also use RNA-Seq to explore the host/pathogen transcriptional response to burn trauma and infection. The prospective student will also have the opportunity to explore the role of the skin microbiome in promoting wound healing and preventing infection and demonstrate how this model can be used as an alternative to mammalian models to study the wound microbiome.

The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Ronan McCarthy. For informal discussions about this studentship, please contact Dr Ronan McCarthy (ronan.mccarthy@brunel.ac.uk).


Candidates should have an undergraduate degree (first or upper second class) or equivalent qualification in Biosciences/Microbiology. A Masters qualification in a relevant area would be desirable. Experience in RNA-Seq analysis desirable. Applicants who have not been awarded a degree by a University in the UK will be expected to demonstrate English language skills to IELTS 7.0 (minimum 6.0 in any section).

How to apply

If you wish to apply, please e-mail the following to chmls-pgr-office@brunel.ac.uk by April 16th

  • An up-to-date CV.
  • A single-page A4 single-spaced personal statement setting out why you are a suitable candidate (i.e. outlining your qualifications and skills).
  • One example of your academic writing (e.g. an essay, publication, a section from an undergraduate or a Masters dissertation).
  • Names and contact details for two academic referees.
  • A copy of your highest degree certificate and transcript.
  • A copy of your English language qualification, where applicable.

Short-listed applicants will be required to attend an interview. Applicants chosen for the interview will be instructed to submit a formal online application via Admissions. 

For further information about how to apply, please contact the College of Health and Life Sciences Postgraduate Research Student Office on chmls-pgr-office@brunel.ac.uk


Meet the Supervisor for this Studentship

Dr Ronan McCarthy - Ronan gained his Bachelor of Science in Genetics with first class honours from University College Cork, Ireland in 2010 and was awarded the title of College Scholar. In autumn 2010, Ronan was awarded an Irish Research Council PhD Scholarship to study novel biofilm inhibition strategies against the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the lab of Professor Fergal O’Gara. In 2014, Ronan joined the research group of Professor Alain Filloux at the MRC Centre for Bacteriology and Infection at Imperial College London. As a Postdoctoral Research Associate, Ronan interrogated the second messenger signalling cascades that govern the biofilm mode of growth in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Following on from his time at Imperial College Ronan joined the Microbiology Department at the Animal and Plant Health Agency where he used host transcriptomics and pathway analysis to profile the host response to infection. He joined the Biosciences Division in Brunel University to continue his analysis of the regulatory networks that govern pathogenicity, antimicrobial resistance and biofilm formation in the Gram negative opportunistic pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii.