Development of Novel Weapons for the Fight Against AMR:

A Big Data & Surface Science Approach

3 or 4-Year PhD Position


Since the 1980’s the invention of new antimicrobials has ground to a halt, however the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has continued to increase exponentially. Bacteria have now been identified that are resistant to all classes of antimicrobial currently marketed, including the commonly used antiseptic octenidine and the antibiotic of “last resort” - colistin. Therefore, the development of novel antimicrobials (to kill AMR microbes) and antimicrobial adjuvants (to re-sensitize AMR microorganisms towards currently redundant antimicrobials), is of the utmost importance. 

In 2015 the Hiscock group first synthesised a novel class of Supramolecular Self-associating Antimicrobials (SSAs) and antibiotic adjuvants. Since this time SSAs have been developed by an interdisciplinary team including Dr D. Mulvihill (cell biologist - Kent) alongside Dr M. Sutton and C. Hind (antimicrobial development experts - Public Health England). To date SSAs have produced six high impact publications and one international patent application (No. PCT/EP2018/069568). Many antimicrobial agents, including SSAs, function by interacting with the microbial surface of susceptible cells. However, the specifics related to mode of antimicrobial action are not well understood, this represents a major rate limiting step for the development of novel weapons in the fight against AMR. The data generated by the successful candidate during their PhD studies will help to remove this developmental road block and is therefore of global importance. 

Using the complimentary skills of biosciences and synthetic chemistry analysed with novel biophysics and surface science approaches will be combined with big data and machine learning to help predict the structure-function relationship of the SSAs and design the next generation of drug targets.


In order to take some steps towards this goal, the proposed project has 3 main milestones:

  1. To use surface science and biophysics methodologies, including neutron scattering experiments, at the ISIS Neutron Source in Oxfordshire, QCM-D and AFM to gain a unique molecular level understanding of the surface-active antimicrobial or antibiotic adjuvant modes of action. Focusing both on conventional surface-active antibiotics and our novel SSAs.

  2. Work with collaborators at Imperial College London to explore a big data approach to derive the relationship between SSA molecular structure and antimicrobial activity.

  3. To use the structure-activity relationships identified to design, synthesise and test next generation SSAs with increased antimicrobial efficacy and, introduce a targeted approach to re-sensitize AMR microorganisms towards currently redundant chemical agents.

The successful delivery of this project has far-reaching industrial applications, which the candidate will be able to develop towards their own research interests.


The successful candidate will be based at the University of Kent's main campus in Canterbury as part of the Hiscock Group, and work under the co-supervision of Dr Jennifer Hiscock, Dr Rob Barker and Dr Dan Mulvihill (University of Kent). Depending on the successful candidates own project interests there may also be opportunities for secondment to Imperial College London, under the supervision of Rob Hewson, and the microbiology research facilities at Public Health England under the supervision of Dr. M. Sutton and C. Hind.


If you are an interested and motivated candidate, with a background in in Chemistry, Forensic Science, Biochemistry or a related subject, please send us an email and we'd be excited to discuss the project further with you.


£14,777 per year (tax free) plus the payment of tuition fees for 3 or 4 years.

Duration depends on whether the studentship is awarded as an EPSRC or VC Fellowship.


8th February 2019 

Interviews to be held shortly after.


September 2019.

Last Updated: December 2018 by Rob Barker.

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