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Cytomegalovirus and Epstein Barr Virus: seronegativity, human genetics and lifelong health

Project Description

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a herpesvirus, infects ~50% of humans. Infection is lifelong and associated with the risk of congenital abnormalities and disease in the immunocompromised. Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), another herpesvirus, infects 90-95% of humans for life. EBV has been linked to 1% of cancers globally.

Although there are precedents for human herpesvirus vaccines, no HCMV or EBV vaccine has currently successfully completed phase III trials. Such vaccines, when adopted, would result in generations of humans with lifelong HCMV and EBV seronegativity. This may be problematic, as herpesviruses co-evolved with humans and thus our immune systems may be well adapted to these viruses (and vice-versa). Conversely, HCMV infection has been associated with reduced life expectancy.

There is minimal high-quality literature on the genetic (and other) factors associated with EBV/HCMV serostatus.

This studentship will address two research questions: 1) what are the genetic and non-genetic factors associated with HCMV and EBV serostatus? and 2) what is the impact of remaining HCMV and EBV seronegative on life expectancy and other markers of health?

The successful candidate will join a multidisciplinary team using epidemiology, cutting edge genomics, and other approaches to better understand disease aetiology. The project provides an excellent opportunity to use large datasets including the UK Biobank and the very richly annotated cohort resources available in Edinburgh, and will lead to the extension of further international collaborations.

• Professor Jim Wilson, University of Edinburgh
• Dr. Helen Stagg, University of Edinburgh
• Dr. Nicola Pirastu, University of Edinburgh

In collaboration with:
• Dr. Graham Taylor, University of Birmingham


A strong academic track record with a 2:1 or higher in a relevant undergraduate degree, or its equivalent if outside the UK. A Master’s in genetics, statistics, epidemiology, or other relevant quantitative field. Proven experience in one or more of the following is desirable: genetic association studies, coding in R/python, handling of large datasets. The successful candidate will work in a highly interdisciplinary environment, both independently and as part of a geographically distributed team.
Following interview, the successful candidate will need to apply and be accepted for a place on the Usher Institute Population Health Sciences PhD programme:

Application procedure

Please provide a CV, personal statement detailing your suitability for the PhD and reasons for applying, full contact details (including job titles and organisations) for two individuals who can supply academic references for you, and copies of your degree certificates and transcripts. All documents must be sent to

The closing date for applications is: 28 February 2019

Funding Notes

Tuition Fees at UK/EU rates (£4,260p.a. in 18/19) for three years; Additional Programme Costs (£5,000p.a. for wet or dry lab from 18/19) for three years; Conference travel of up to £300p.a. for three years; Stipend at RCUK rate (£14,777 p.a. in 18/19) for three years.

This studentship covers UK/EU tuition fees only (any eligible non-EU candidates must personally fund the remainder of the overseas tuition fee).

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