1. Alternative matrices for personal exposure monitoring: explanted silicone prostheses and wristbands

Lead supervisor: Professor Kevin Thomas, QAEHS

Other supervisors: Dr Jake O’Brien, Dr Fisher Wang, Dr Sarit Kaserzon, QAEHS

Contact: kevin.thomas@uq.edu.au

 

Project description

Humans are exposed to a broad range of chemicals in everyday life. Measuring plasma and/or urinary biomarkers are the gold standard for assessing chemical exposure. However, alternative methods show promise to increased ease in sample collection and analysis, as well as decreased cost. Silicone wristbands and explanted prostheses show potential as methods for the quantitative assessment of human exposure to various compounds in the environment, such as flame retardants, plasticizers, other industrial chemicals and pesticides. Explanted silicone prostheses can provide a measure of the overall body burden of a chemical through equilibrium with the body over time whilst they were implanted in the body. Silicone wristbands serve as a reliable and convenient tool for quantifying personal exposure over shorter time periods (e.g. 1 week). This project aims to better understand the complex mixtures of chemical to which humans are exposed to by utilising wristbands and explanted silicone prosthesis.

This PhD project will work on developing analytical methods for the analysis of exposed wristbands and explanted prosthesis to characterise chemical exposure. The developed techniques will be used to study chemical body burdens through prosthesis analysis and personal exposure under different scenarios using wristbands. Through this project the PhD student will gain experience in state-of-the-art environmental monitoring and chemical analytical techniques, as well as theoretical and practical experience in identifying and quantifying contaminant fate processes.

Preferred educational background: Undergraduate Class I or IIA honours or Masters degree in a relevant discipline. This project will suit students with strong background in materials science, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology or pharmacology and a keen interest in environmental exposure assessment.

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2. Characterisation of novel substances in wastewater that select antimicrobial resistance

Lead supervisor: Prof Kevin Thomas, QAEHS

Other supervisors: Dr Aimee Murray, University of Exeter; Assoc Prof Will Gaze, University of Exeter; Dr Jake O’Brien, Dr Ben Tscharke, QAEHS

Contact: kevin.thomas@uq.edu.au

 

Project description

Extended anthropogenic use of antimicrobials is leading to rapidly evolving, multi-drug antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on a global scale. It has been recently shown that non-antibiotic drugs and other chemicals may play a role in the emergence of antibiotic resistance. Wastewater contains a cocktail of chemicals, including drugs, personal care products and household and industrial chemicals. Elucidating which of these has the potential to induce antimicrobial resistance is challenging, however possible through an effects-directed analytical approach whereby wastewater is fractionated and tested to establish which substances have the potential to do so. Following testing using a novel AMR assay, the fractions will be tested using chromatography coupled to high resolution mass spectrometry to reveal high risk, priority compounds that may enrich for AMR.

This PhD project will work on developing chemical analytical methods for the fractionation and analysis of wastewater. The developed techniques will be used to characterise the presence of substances that induce antimicrobial resistance through an effects-directed analysis approach. Wastewater will be systematically fractionated and tested using a novel AMR assay, low cost yet high-throughput AMR assay. This assay will be used to expose wastewater-derived bacterial communities to wastewater fractions to screen for biological effects. It has been used previously to determine effect concentrations of antibiotics, as indicated by significant reduction in bacterial growth. This reduction in growth has been shown to be a reliable proxy for selection of key AMR genes. Active fractions will be analysed using non-targeted high resolution mass spectrometry. Through this project the PhD student will gain experience in state-of-the-art environmental monitoring and chemical analytical techniques, as well as theoretical and practical experience in identifying and quantifying contaminant fate processes and aspects of microbiology.

Preferred educational background: Undergraduate Class I or IIA honours or Masters degree in a relevant discipline. This project will suit students with strong background in materials science, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology or pharmacology and a keen interest in analytical science. Also, a willingness to travel to the UK for a placement with the University of Exeter collaborators is required.

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3. Wastewater fingerprinting as a tool to inform on community health

Lead supervisor: Dr Jake O’Brien, QAEHS

Other supervisors: Prof Kevin Thomas, Prof Jochen Mueller, Dr Ben Tscharke, QAEHS

Contact: j.obrien2@uq.edu.au

 

Project description

Public health monitoring and evaluation are an essential part of all community health programs, but there remains an inability to rapidly identify and respond to risks to public health and wellbeing in the urban environment. The unprecedented speed of urbanization that we are currently experiencing globally and within Australia constitutes substantial risks to the resilience of cities with public health and wellbeing the most critical concern. According to the 2016 Australian Census, more than two-thirds of Australians live in a capital city, an increase of 10.5% since the 2011 Census. As such there is a need to develop tools for early warning systems that identify public health threats within the urban environment which allow for (near) real-time estimates of public health status and collation of both spatial and temporal datasets. This would allow for rapid detection of threats so that responses can be targeted optimally within the surveyed urban environment.

The use of wastewater is a potential approach to achieve this. Wastewater contains the combined endogenous and exogenous products of human metabolism and biomarkers of disease of a specific community defined within a sewer catchment. Quantification of markers for population health, such as pharmaceutical and recreational drug usage, disease indicators (e.g. specific proteins) and diet, in wastewater provides a promising mechanism for assessing population health and fingerprinting the health status at the catchment scale.

This PhD project will work on the development wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) as an innovative tool to inform on overall population-level health status. Through this project the PhD student will gain experience in state-of-the-art environmental monitoring and chemical analytical techniques, theoretical and practical experience in identifying and quantifying chemical fate processes as well as advanced statistical analysis.

Preferred educational background: Undergraduate Class I or IIA honours or Masters degree in a relevant discipline. This project will suit students with strong background in analytical chemistry, biochemistry, statistical analysis, molecular biology or pharmacology and a keen interest in community health assessment.

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