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Elucidation of the processes leading to urinary catheter scaling and bladder inflammation

PhD project title

Elucidation of the processes leading to urinary catheter scaling and bladder inflammation

Outline description, including interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international dimensions


Background, purpose and the 3 dimensions

Urinary catheters are used globally in the management of incontinence and voiding dysfunction.  WHO data estimates that >200 million people worldwide suffer from bladder control or voiding problems requiring catheterisation.  Urinary catheters are used to assist voiding and manage continence intermittently, or a long-term (indwelling) basis e.g. spinal cord injury, spina bifida, post-surgery, radiation therapy or other bladder disorders.  They are also used short-term to deliver chemotherapy directly into the bladder to treat urothelial cancer or in urological investigation. Indwelling catheters are the gold standard treatment when natural physiological function of the bladder is severely compromised and catheters may remain in place for up to 12 weeks.  This is associated with adverse effects, commonly urinary tract infections, urinary urgency, pain and trauma to the bladder/urethral tissue.  In addition to health impact, there are significant NHS costs, estimated £1-2.5 billon; moreover, catheter-associated infections account for around 2,100 deaths per year.

It is known that bio-tribological processes, friction, at the tissue-catheter interface cause; (1) damage to the bladder wall leading to inflammation and impaired wound healing, and, (2) failure of the catheter device due to ‘scaling’ i.e. accumulation of bacteria and soluble salts.  This project will address both aspects and will combine the disciplines of physiology, pharmacy and imaging (interdisciplinary). We will work with an international imaging company, Andor/Oxford Instruments (intersectoral and international) on novel imaging technology so that we can model inflammation and catheter scaling through real-time advanced imaging.

Project aims:

  1. To characterise pro-inflammatory signalling in a cell based model of bio-tribological processes using medical catheters.
  2. To elucidate the impact of catheter friction on bladder physiology in ex vivo tissue.
  3. To investigate the development of catheter scaling in cell-based and tissue-based models using novel real-time imaging.

Training: the student will acquire a portfolio of biomedical research techniques, career development training, conference presentations, report writing, commercialisation, industrial experience and the cohort training programme.

Key words/descriptors

Health-related quality of life; incontinence; urinary catheters; inflammation; imaging

Fit to CITI-GENS theme(s)

  • Life Sciences

Supervisor Information



First Supervisor:        Professor Karen McCloskey                          School: Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences

Second Supervisor:  Dr Nicola Irwin                                                 School: Pharmacy

Third Supervisor:      TBC by external partner                                Company:  Andor/Oxford Instruments


Name of non-HEI partner(s)

Andor/Oxford Instruments

Contribution of non-HEI partner(s) to the project:




Andor started as a spin-out company from Queen’s and is now a global leader in the development and manufacture of high performance scientific digital cameras and microscopy systems (Andor website).  Andor and the McCloskey group established a collaboration in June 2019 and have worked together on a project in the area of novel imaging platforms for the last 11 months.  This relationship will be further developed in the present project and both parties welcome the opportunity to advance their initial work.

Andor will provide access to novel imaging platforms e.g. placement of an instrument in the McCloskey laboratory.  This will enable the student to image catheter scaling within biological cell- and tissue- based systems in real time and understand the processes leading to catheter failure and bladder inflammation.

Andor will provide a Supervisor/Mentor who will meet with the full supervisory team 3 times per year (meeting duration 1 hour) and will provide specific Mentorship at 2 key points: (1) training on use of the instrument in the McCloskey laboratory and image analysis and (2) supervision of a placement where the student will gain insights into 3 areas (i) instrument development processes, (ii) commercialisation and (iii) working within a team onsite for 1-3 months). 


Research centre / School

 Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research

Subject area

Physiology and Pharmacy