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Dr Alison Hill BSc, MRes, PhD

Postdoctoral researcher in corneal infection

Dr Alison Hill's photo

Alison is a postdoctoral researcher in corneal infection within the faculty of medicine at the University of Southampton.

Alison is a graduate in Biomedical science from the University of Warwick. During her degree, she completed a year in industry at Public Health England, Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response. It was here that she developed an interest in microbiology and infection research.

Since then, Alison has completed her PhD in Biomedical science as part of the Integrated Masters and PhD program in Infection and Immunity at the University of Southampton. Her PhD project involved modelling the airway mucosa in asthma and investigating cellular responses to rhinovirus infection.

On completing her PhD, Alison has continued to pursue her interests in tissue modelling and host-pathogen interactions within the molecular microbiology department. Her postdoctoral research also involves the development of advanced techniques for microbial detection in collaboration with the School of Electronics and Computer Science.

BSc, Biomedical Science with Intercalated Year, University of Warwick, 2012

MRes, Infection and Immunity, University of Southampton, 2013

PhD, Biomedical Science, University of Southampton, 2016

Research interests

1. Development of advanced techniques for microbial detection in ocular infections

Microbial keratitis (MK) (corneal infection) is a leading cause of preventable blindness and visual impairment worldwide. Rapid identification of the pathogenic organism and prompt, appropriate treatment are vital for good visual prognosis, but current diagnostic methods take several days.

Microfluidic impedance cytometry (MIC) is a novel technology, which has the potential to rapidly distinguish between different corneal pathogens based on differences in their size and dielectric properties, with a key benefit of using small quantities of corneal samples.

Our research aims to develop and optimise MIC for the detection/identification of non-viral corneal pathogens in clinical samples and compare diagnostic accuracy with standard diagnostic techniques. A positive outcome would lead to major benefits for patients by allowing faster diagnosis at the patient bedside, resulting in earlier targeted treatment, with improved visual prognosis.

2. Host-pathogen interactions in ocular infections

Bacterial organisms such Pseudomonas aeruginosa are major causative agents of microbial keratitis. Without prompt, appropriate treatment, visual impairment is often very rapid (within 24 hours) and frequently leads to permanent visual loss. A common problem during infection is severe corneal tissue damage, resulting from the combined cytopathic effects of the pathogen and the host’s inflammatory response. Antimicrobial therapies are usually successful in reducing the pathogen load, but have minimal effects on the levels of tissue damage. A better understanding of host-pathogen interactions in corneal infection is therefore important for the development of therapies that limit tissue damage.

Fibroblasts are important structural cells that maintain the normal structure of cornea through the synthesis and degradation of extracellular matrix, and the co-ordination of repair responses. In addition, evidence suggests that they are important sentinels of the immune system. For example, fibroblasts express pattern recognition receptors and can become activated to produce mediators involved in leucocyte chemoattraction and retention. These leucocytes may be responsible for much of the tissue damage in microbial keratitis. For example, activated neutrophils release a number of cytotoxic components and are one of the predominant cell types in corneal ulcers. Our research aims to improve understanding of corneal fibroblast responses to Pseudomonas aeruginosa and investigate fibroblast-neutrophil interactions following infection.

Research group

Clinical and Experimental Sciences

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Dr Alison Hill
Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Building 85, Life Sciences Building, Highfield Campus, Southampton, SO171BJ

Room Number: SGH/LC76/MP814

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