skyline with pollution

Key information

Professor Maria Belvisi 
Dr Mark Birrell
Dr Sara Bonvini
Professor Terry Tetley

Deadline: now closed.

Three year industrial supported BBSRC PhD post - starting October 2019.

Applications are invited from candidates with a Master’s degree (Merit and above) in Biomedical Sciences or a related discipline, for a three year PhD.

The studentship will be funded for three years with a tax free bursary. Tuition fees at the Home/EU rate will also be paid.

Our environment is rich with agents (e.g. inhaled and systemic pollutants, work place allergens and irritants) that can interact with the respiratory tract. Whilst these interactions do not detrimentally influence the health status of many subjects, in certain groups (e.g. those with existing respiratory conditions, are more sensitive to the insult or are repeatedly exposed) they can have dramatic consequences. There is emerging evidence providing a link between the increasing amounts of air pollutants/allergens/irritants in the environment and the worsening of symptoms. For example, air pollution has been linked to increases in hospital visits for respiratory disease. Synergy has also been suggested between air pollutants and allergens in the risk and exacerbation (especially in children), suggesting an advantage of avoiding co-exposure. Mechanisms in the pathogenesis of some phenotypes linked to non-allergic asthma (such as responses to irritants in cleaning products, pollutants and cold air) in general remain poorly understood.

Defensive respiratory reflexes, such as cough and bronchospasm, are regulated by vagal afferent nerves. Our laboratory has demonstrated that ion channels present on these vagal nerve termini located under the airway epithelium respond to diverse agents such as irritants and environmental stressors, which can trigger activation of these neural pathways to evoke respiratory symptoms. Though these reflexes are defensive mechanisms, it is thought that dysregulation of this system can cause a worsening of CRD symptoms.

The study of environmental pollutants, their effects on sensory nerves and the subsequent role in the initiation or exacerbation of respiratory symptoms (inflammatory responses/cough /bronchospasm) is in its infancy making a case for investigating sensory irritation and TRP channel function across CRDs. Insight into the mechanisms behind environmental influences on such biological processes could reveal novel therapeutic strategies, whilst highlighting unwanted features of various products present in the environment.

Imperial College London provides excellent opportunities for research students' training. All students benefit from a full programme of training in research and transferable skills organised through the Graduate School, the quality of which has been recognised several times at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards.

The student will be based in the National Heart and Lung Institute, which provides an exciting environment, with state of the art facilities and excellent opportunities for PhD student training including research seminars and journal clubs. In addition, the institute provides extensive collaborative opportunities with other research groups.

The post is part funded by Astra Zeneca and the successful student would have the opportunity to spend some time working with AZ employees. Indeed, by harnessing the knowledge base of the PIs and their clinical colleagues and combining it with the technologies available at Astra Zeneca it will make a productive and dynamic PhD.

How to Apply

Applicants must hold, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second-class undergraduate degree or UK equivalent, along with a Master's, both in an appropriate subject from a recognised academic institution.

To apply please email the following information to Professors Maria Belvisi and Terry Tetley by email on and

  • Curriculum Vitae
  • One page personal statement
  • Name, address, telephone number or email of at least two academic referees. 

Application deadline: now closed.

Please note that candidates must fulfil College admissions criteria.

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