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Exploring the antiviral PKR response pathway in herpes simplex virus infection using new clinical isolates (Ref FHMS - FF - 17 BIO)

   Faculty of Health & Medical Sciences

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  Prof Gill Elliott, Dr Hannah Burgess  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Herpes simplex (HSV) is a highly contagious human pathogen that infects cells of the oral mucosa, skin, cornea or the genital mucosa, and stays in the body forever. It is best known as the causative agent of oral herpes (cold sores) and genital herpes. However, there are other more serious outcomes of HSV infection such as encephalitis, blindness or neonatal herpes. With four billion people infected, there is a true worldwide epidemic of HSV, but no vaccine is available, and resistance to established antivirals is growing. 

The aim of this project is to generate new understanding of the ongoing battle between HSV and its host cell. Protein kinase R (PKR) is an important antiviral response that leads to translational shutoff and activation of the interferon pathway. HSV produces a network of virus proteins that block this pathway, either directly or indirectly, but understanding how these proteins work together has been confounded by conflicting results in commonly studied lab-adapted viruses. 

In this project you will study this pathway using clinically isolated HSV which has not been passaged in cell culture. You will be trained in a wide range of skills including tissue culture, virology, molecular biology, whole genome sequencing, bioinformatics and confocal microscopy, to identify relevant genetic differences between clinical and lab-adapted viruses and construct new virus mutants to assess the effect on the PKR response. In this way you will explore potential new targets for therapeutic intervention to enhance antiviral responses and reduce virus transmission.

  1. McCormick C, Khaperskyy DA. Nature reviews Immunology. 2017;17(10):647-60. Epub 20170626. doi: 10.1038/nri.2017.63. PubMed PMID: 28669985.
  2. Jones J, Depledge DP, Breuer J, Ebert-Keel K, Elliott G. J Gen Virol. 2019;100(12):1701-13. Epub 2019/10/30. doi: 10.1099/jgv.0.001343. PubMed PMID: 31661047.
  3. Poppers J, Mulvey M, Khoo D, Mohr I. J Virol. 2000;74(23):11215-21. PubMed PMID: 11070019.
  4. He B, Gross M, Roizman B. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1997;94(3):843-8. Epub 1997/02/04. PubMed PMID: 9023344; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC19601.
  5. Dauber B, Saffran HA, Smiley JR. PLoS Pathog. 2019;15(10):e1008111. Epub 2019/10/19. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008111. PubMed PMID: 31626661; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC6821131.

Principle Supervisor: Prof Gill Elliott

[Email Address Removed]  


Entry requirements

Open to UK and international students with the project starting in October 2023. Note that a maximum of 30% of the studentships will be offered to international students.

You will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for our PhD programme https://www.surrey.ac.uk/postgraduate/biosciences-and-medicine-phd#entry.

How to apply

Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the relevant principal supervisor(s) to discuss the project(s) before submitting their application.

Applications should be submitted via the [https://www.surrey.ac.uk/postgraduate/biosciences-and-medicine-phd programme page (N.B. Please select the October 2023 start date when applying).

You may opt to apply for a single project or for 2 of these Faculty-funded studentship projects

When completing your application, in place of a research proposal, please provide a brief motivational document (1 page maximum) which specifies:

  • the reference numbers(s) for the project or two projects you are applying for 
  • the project title(s) and principal supervisor name(s) 
  • if applying for two projects, please also indicate your order of preference for the projects
  • an explanation of your motivations for wanting to study for a PhD 
  • an explanation of your reasons for selecting the project(s) you have chosen

Additionally, to complete a full application, you MUST also email a copy of your CV and 1-page motivational document directly to the relevant project principal supervisor of each project you apply for. Due to short turnaround times for applicant shortlisting, failure to do this may mean that your application is not considered.

Please note that online interviews for shortlisted applicants are expected to take place during the week commencing 30th January.

Funding Notes

Funding is for 3.5 years and includes UKRI-aligned stipend (£17,668 pa for 2022-23), approved University of Surrey fees and a research budget. This studentship is funded by Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey.
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