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Personal profile

Research Interests

I’m interested in biofilms and their impact on health.  Biofilms are widespread in the natural environment, are composed of more than one type of microorganism, and many include both bacteria and fungi.

 Cells living in the biofilm act differently to cells that are in a free state by changing their behaviour and biological processes, causing problems in health care - infections caused by bacteria and/or fungi living in a biofilm are much harder to treat. The biofilm is physically harder to remove, the cells in the biofilm increase their ability to infect and damage the person infected, and they are also more resistant to treatment with antibiotics and antifungals.

 This is due to several factors: the inability of treatments to penetrate the biofilm matrix; increased mutation rates occurring in cells living in a biofilm, giving rise to antimicrobial resistance (AMR); and increased sharing of AMR genes between neighbouring cells. This, coupled with the rise in antibiotic and antifungal resistance in general, poses a serious infection control problem in healthcare settings.

Studies have shown that two skin microorganisms commonly carried by humans, the fungus Candida albicans and the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus can form these biofilms together, and these biofilms show greater resistance to both antifungals and antibacterials than the biofilms of the individual organisms themselves. To provide a better picture of the nature of the problem, I am working on a project with Prof. Paul Hoskisson and Prof. Gail McConnell using the Mesolens imaging system to investigate a C.albicans/S.aureus biofilm. The aim of my work is to increase our understanding of the internal structures present in the dual species biofilm, with a long-term view of developing potential treatments.

Personal Statement

I am based in SIPBS having recently returned to research as a Medical Research Scotland funded Daphne Jackson Fellow.  My background is in Molecular Biology/Cell Signalling, having previously worked on signalling pathways in the model organisms Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Arabidopsis thaliana. I have also worked in industry, in NHS Scotland as part of the team developing the Scottish National Decontamination agenda with regard to invasive medical devices, and as a Lecturer in Further Education. My Fellowship is allowing me to retrain into the field of Microbiology where I am developing my interests in the mechanisms behind disease. and how to use that information to develop new treatments.

My current project is looking at a dual species interkingdom biofilm to further understand the contribution of biofilm structure in disease. Structure and function are directly related in biology, and so the structures within the biofilm itself must be related to the role of the biofilm in enhanced virulence and resistance to antimicrobials. 

I also have an interest in developing life science applications in space, and the effects of altered gravity on microbial physiology, virulence and biofilm formation.  In the future I hope to look at these effects and their implications with respect to both extended space missions and Earth analogue environments, such as long-term critical care.

 

 

 

 

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