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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

SMMI member awarded prestigious grant to investigate novel mechanisms of air pollution toxicity

Published: 13 February 2018
Dr Matt Loxham

Dr Matt Loxham (Faculty of Medicine) has been awarded a prestigious Springboard grant by the Academy of Medical Sciences to further his research into the health effects of airborne particulate matter air pollution. Having completed a PhD under the supervision of Professor Donna Davies (Faculty of Medicine) and Professors Damon Teagle and Martin Palmer (Ocean and Earth Science), Matt was awarded a BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship in 2016 to study the chemistry and toxicology of air pollution from ship and dockside sources.

The Springboard award will allow Matt to expand the scope of his current research, to study particulate matter exposure-induced changes in lipids, which are the principal components of membranes in cells, and reactive molecules known as the redox metabolome.  He is especially interested in the effects of particle composition and size on the fundamental biochemistry of exposed cells, which will yield valuable new data about ways in which inhaled particulates may affect us, as well as potentially leading the way towards new methods to identify exposure to pollution and resulting cellular damage.

The ability to collect particulate matter from sites around Southampton docks, which will provide crucial material for part of the work covered by the Springboard award, was developed through two previous HEIF awards from SMMI.  The first, a “Bridging the Gap” award (through EPSRC), facilitated the purchase of a high-volume cascade impactor – a device which collects airborne particulates for subsequent physicochemical and toxicological analysis  It is unusual compared to most similar devices in that it draws through a very high volume of air (around a cubic metre per minute), allowing collection of enough material for full biological testing of the material, and also in that it is able to collect ultrafine particles.  These ultrafine particles, which measure less than 100 nanometres in diameter, are hypothesised to pose a risk to health on account of their small size and ability to penetrate into various parts of the body, but relatively little is known about them because they are difficult to collect in useable quantities.  The second award, a SMMI “HEIF” award (through the Leverhulme Trust), enabled Matt to develop a protocol for the use of this device, and the preparation and analysis of the collected samples.  As such, both awards were critical for the development and success of the Springboard application.  They have also been crucial in the development of links with Associated British Ports (Southamton) and Southampton Council, Matt’s BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship, the recruitment of a PhD student in Ocean and Earth Science (started 2017), and the award of funding for a second PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine (to start 2018).


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