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Dr Freya Harrison



Phone: 024 765 24744

Office: D030

Twitter: @friendlymicrobe

Freya Harrison webpage

Research Clusters

Microbiology & Infectious disease

Warwick Centres and GRPs

Monash-Warwick Alliance in Antimicrobial Resistance

Vacancies and Opportunities

For PhD and postdoctoral opportunities, and interest in potential collaborations, please contact me at the above email address.

Research Interests

My team researches how bacterial pathogens are able to form long-lived, chronic infections with high levels of tolerance to antibiotics. To do this, we study how bacteria grow and behave, and respond to drugs, in environments that closely mimic the unique environments they find inside an infected person. We are especially interested in infections in the lungs of people with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis, infections of non-healing wounds, and infections that stem from microbial contamination of hospital ventilator tubes. We are using our microbiology knowledge, and a set of new tools that we have built in the lab, to try to find the Achilles' heel of debilitating and often lethal biofilm infections. We hope our tools will help researchers work on many different aspects of lung infection microbiology without the need for experiments on live animals. We also work with colleagues from different disciplines to discover new molecules that could treat antibiotic-resistant infections. With colleagues from the arts and humanities, we are researching infection remedies from medieval and early modern medical books to see if any of them contain molecules with real potential to treat infection. With colleagues from chemistry, we are testing synthetic molecules for their ability to kill bacteria.

Research: Technical Summary

My team focusses on chronic infections of hosts whose normal defence mechanisms are compromised. Our key interests are cystic fibrosis lung infection, chronic wounds (primarily diabetic foot infections) and ventilator-associated pneumonia. In all of these contexts, different species of bacteria come together to form slime-encased multicellular biofilms that protect the microbes within from attack by antibiotics, or by the host's immune system.

Further, in all cases the infecting bacteria find a unique environment whose physicochemistry differs greatly from the environment inside healthy host tissues, or in standard lab culture conditions. Changes in bacterial physiology due to their abiotic and biotic environment mean that it can be very hard to predict, from standard diagnostic lab tests, which antibiotics might be able to penetrate biofilm defences and kill bacteria in vivo. To better understand how bacteria establish chronic biofilm infection in the cystic fibrosis airways, we built a new lab model of the environment inside the lungs. We use lung tissue from pigs slaughtered for meat to build realistic cystic fibrosis biofilms in the lab. We worked with a microbiological testing company (Perfectus Biomed Ltd) to translate our lab model into a UKAS-accredited platform for antibiofilm drug testing for commercial clients. We have now started building a similar lab model of the biofilms that form on endotracheal tubes, and which cause ventilator-associated pneumonia. We collaborate widely with colleagues to test a variety of novel therapeutics (including antimicrobial polymers, nanoparticles, phage) on biofilms grown in our high-validity host-mimicking models.

I am also a founder member of the interdisciplinary AncientBiotics consortium. Colleagues from the sciences and the arts and humanities work together to identify, reconstruct and test infection remedies from medieval medical books in the hope of finding new agents to treat antibiotic-resistant infection. We think that these historical texts could hold the key to discovering effective new drugs based on the cocktails of natural products present in the plants and other materials used by our ancestors.

Year 3 projects for Warwick undergraduates

I offer projects related to (a) wet lab work exploring bacterial growth and antibiotic resistance in our CF lung and ventilator tubing models; (b) wet lab work testing the antimicrobial activity of natural products; (c) dry projects involving systematic review and meta-analysis of microbiological topics.

  • August 2016 - present: Assistant / Associate professor / Reader, School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick
  • October2012 - July 2016: Post-doctoral research fellow, School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham
  • October 2009 - September 2012: Fellow by Examination, Magdalen College, University of Oxford
  • April 2008 - September 2009: Post-doctoral research officer, Biodiversity Lab, University of Bath
  • October 2007 - May 2008: Non-stipendiary lecturer in Biological Sciences, Merton College, University of Oxford
  • 2004 - 2007: DPhil, Dept. of Zoology, University of Oxford. Jan - Apr 2004 Research assistant, Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich
  • 2000 - 2003: BA(Hons) Biological Sciences, University of Oxford