William Davis Birch
I am a final year PhD student in the School of Mechanical Engineering, working on an interdisciplinary project developing new technologies for simulating the human gut microbiome in vitro. My research revolves around applying engineering design principles to solve problems in other fields, with a particular focus on the gut microbiome.
I graduated from the University of Leeds in June 2019 with a bachelor degree in Mechanical Engineering (BEng First Class Hons). Alongside my studies I have completed two summer internships: one with McBraida plc. (a leading supplier to the aerospace industry) where I developed a data analytics tool to help optimise manufacturing efficiency by increasing machine up-time; another as a summer student at the University of Leeds where I developed HADES – the headspace and density examination system – a platform for measuring the density of samples and examining their gaseous products.
As part of my PhD, I have developed the MiGut platform – a scalable bioreactor system for simulating the human gut microboime in vitro. MiGut builds upon the 20+ years’ of gut microbiome modelling work at the University of Leeds, and it the only model system of its kind which allows for parallel bioreactors to be easily run. In this interdisciplinary project, I have worked closely with Prof N. Kapur and Prof P. Culmer (School of Mechanical Engineering), Dr A. Buckley (School of Food Science and Nutrition), and Dr I. Moura (Faculty of Medicine and Health). The MiGut technology has a numebr of applications including:
- Simulating infections such as those caused by C. difficile to investigate novel therapeutics
- Investigating antibiotic-induced dysbiosis of the gut microbiome
- Studying the impacts which diet and nutrition can have on the gut microbiome
The MiGut technology is also being used in a numebr of other projects, such as:
- RoboHog: developing an in vitro gut model system of the porcine hindgut. This project, in collaboration with the Katie McDermott and Henry Greathead, is looking at how MiGut can be adapted to simulate the pig microbiome. This will improve the knowledge on the pig microbiome, improving pig health while reducing the reliance on using animals in research.
- Improving methods for growing and sampling intestinal biofilms in vitro. Biofilm-bound bacterial communities in the gut can differ creatly from the planktonic (free-moving) groups. Establishing these communities in vitro and reliably sampling them to study the bacterial communities remains a challenge. Emily Dewhurst (PhD student, School of Mechanical Engineering) is adapting the MiGut model to address these issues.
During the COVID pandemic, I was part of the team that developed the LeVe CPAP device: a resource efficient CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device for non-invasive ventilation. We designed and tested the device using an instrumented breathing simulator. These devices continue to be used by collborators in Mengo Hospital (Kampala, Uganda) where they are being evaluated for safety and efficacy in clinical trials.
- BEng Mechanical Engineering