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Funding future scientists to carry out vital research

21st November 2023

The second instalment of our 10 blogs for 10 years series focuses on a new meningitis research project we are funding.

PHD student blog pic

“We are investing in scientists of the future.”

Meningitis Now is funding a 4-year PHD studentship at the University of Bristol that will shed light on a little-known aspect of how meningitis-causing bacteria spread amongst people.

Despite our understanding of how meningococcal bacteria cause disease once they are inside the body, almost nothing is known about how they survive and adapt during transmission from human to human in aerosol droplets.

Meningococcal bacteria are spread from person to person by close, prolonged contact and exhalation or inhalation of droplets that contain these bacteria. Disease is caused when these inhaled bacteria are able to enter the blood stream and central nervous system.

The ability of bacteria to adapt during transmission will influence how likely they are to infect an individual following inhalation of the aerosol. Transmission will depend on bacterial characteristics together with environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and droplet size.

The research

PHD student Mia Dierks Treece has recently commenced her studies, which are titled ‘Survival and adaptation of the meningococcus in aerosol droplets’, at the University of Bristol. Mia studied Cellular and Molecular Medicine as an undergraduate and later developed a passion for research. The first year of her PHD will consist of academic training and supervision. In the three following years of this project, Mia will be working on each of the aims of this research:

  • Investigate the impact of temperature and humidity on the survival of meningococcal bacteria in respiratory droplets.
  • Determine how the outer surface (capsule) of the bacterial cell contributes to survival in respiratory droplets.
  • Understand the genetic changes that occur in meningococcal bacteria during transmission.

The research will take place using a state-of-the-art droplet generation and control system developed in Bristol, combined with technology to investigate genetic changes in bacteria. Mia will be supervised by a multi-disciplinary team of experts in aerosol science, molecular microbiology and clinical sciences.

Potential impact

The results of this research could help to improve vaccine development and inform the design of new drugs. It could also help with engineering strategies, such as heating or air conditioning in public spaces, which could reduce the survival and transmission rates of airborne bacteria.

Bev Corbett, Director of Information and Support at Meningitis Now, said: “We are delighted to be supporting this 4-year PhD studentship at the University of Bristol. Funding this project means that we are not only investing in scientists of the future but making a significant contribution towards learning how meningitis causing bacteria can survive during transmission, which will help lead scientists towards new ways to prevent meningitis in the future.”

To learn more about the ongoing research projects that we are funding please visit our Research pages.