PhD candidate, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences - NUTRIM - Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Updated: 4 months ago
Deadline: 13 Mar 2022

Micro- and nanoplastics (MP, plastic particles ≤ 5 mm) have been detected in drinking water, food, air and in human stools, evidencing human exposure, which is only expected to rise in the future. Exposure of humans to MNPs is most prominent via the oral route (ingestion) and respiratory route (inhalation). However, currently, little is known about the effects of microplastics on human health. Recent findings indicate that it is highly likely that MP can cross the epithelial barrier in the intestines (as well airways/lungs and thus may exert detrimental biological effects in the human body). One of the specific goals of this project is the quantification of human body exposure to MP through the ingestion route, and to study the effect of size, shape and concentration on these processes. Secondly, an in-depth MP hazard characterization on intestinal cells as well as secondary organs (e.g. liver) is being performed.

The Brigid project (“Bridging the gap between microplastics and human health”) aims to improve our understanding of the impacts of MP oral exposures on human health by generating robust and reliable scientific exposure and hazard data, indicating the critical MP properties which trigger uptake and/or toxicity following oral exposure. With this, Brigid will lay the foundations for the establishment of an innovative risk assessment framework. The Brigid project is funded by Plastics Europe, a leading European trade association. The Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research (TNO) is partner in this international consortium. 

To address these research questions, this project will deploy simple and more advanced in vitrocell culture and ex vivoorgan perfusion systems. These will include primary cells, cell lines as well as advanced ex vivo intestinal and liver models.

In this project, relevant read-out parameters will be investigated by using state-of-the-art cellular and molecular biology tools and in the end this should result in a PhD thesis. 

You will conduct your PhD research at TNO in a new international project investigating the possible health risks of MP via the oral exposure route. Within the research, advanced in vitro cell and ex vivo tissue models will be used to investigate the absorption of MP across the gut barrier, and how the liver subsequently handles these microplastics. You will also investigate the biological effects of these microplastics on these organ models. Research will be performed with cell lines (Caco-2, hepatocytes) and advanced ex vivo and organ on-a-chip models (InTESTine, Intestine Explant Barrier model) as well as organ perfusion models (liver perfusion). You will play an important role in this international project and will perform the research within TNO. Activities include, amongst others:

  • Set up in vitro and ex vivo experiments
  • Conducting experiments
  • Processing, analyzing and interpreting the data
  • Presenting results in project consortium and in the scientific field

TNO is an inspiring environment where research is conducted into practical solutions for societal challenges, including microplastics, using diverse expertise. Microplastics are an important topic within TNO's Circular Economy and Environment unit. The project will therefore be carried out in a multidisciplinary context in which various units of TNO are involved.
You think along and contribute in a multidisciplinary team of experts in the field of microplastics and health.
The project is in collaboration with the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, of NUTRIM School for Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism, Maastricht University. You will be employed by Maastricht University and obtain a PhD doctorate from this University. The research activities will be carried out at the TNO premises; location Zeist (first year) and location Leiden from the second year onwards.

We foresee to have the first interview round at March 18.


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