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FULLY FUNDED PHD: Modulating the brain immune response to protect against viral encephalitis and progressive multi-focal leukoencephalopathy

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, February 17, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description


Viral encephalitis is a major cause of mortality and chronic disability. Progressive multi-focal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is an often-fatal disease caused by an opportunistic infection of the central nervous system by Human Polyomavirus 2, previously known as John Cunningham virus (JCV). PML is mostly seen by people with a suppressed immune system, for instance during certain immunomodulatory treatments used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) and other immune diseases.

There is currently no cure or treatment for patients developing PML. Consequently, mortality rates for PML remain high and many survivors are left with severe long-term neurological deficits. There is an urgent need to develop prevention and treatment strategies for PML, and other causes of viral encephalitis.

Exciting new data from our laboratories suggest we can counter viral replication and therefore the risk posed by viral infection by exploiting a previously unrecognised antibody-mediated mechanism that induces an antiviral response in the central nervous system (CNS). This concept evolved from a report demonstrating intrathecal synthesis of lipid-reactive IgM is associated with a decreased risk of MS patients treated with natalizumab developing PML.

This project has two main aims:
1) investigate the underlying mechanism of this antiviral effect of lipid-reactive IgM using our murine “brain in a dish” cultures that contain all major CNS cell types,
2) test our findings and treatment strategies against JCV in human brain cultures.
Techniques to be used will include: primary cell cultures, microscopy, RT-qPCR, virus infections, mass-spectrometry.

Combined, this is a completely novel strategy to treat and/or prevent PML by improving the antiviral response in the central nervous system, which could transform treatment options for people currently excluded from otherwise highly effective immunomodulatory treatment. Furthermore, this treatment strategy could be modulated towards a pan-viral treatment against viral encephalitis.

This highly collaborative project combines neuroimmunology and virology and is based at the Institute for Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Glasgow. This project will be supervised by Marieke Pingen who is embedded in the Chemokine Research Group (@CRGGlasgow). For further information, feel free to contact her at


*** Please note, there already is a research proposal in place. Instead, upload a personal statement on your experience and motivation for this project. For any administrative queries regarding applying, please contact Joanna MacDonald at

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the MS society.

The start date is flexible and can be discussed.

Year 1: £14,777
Year 2: £15,145
Year 3: £15,525
They additionally pay the tuition fees.

Duration of the project: 36 months


Please note, there already is a research proposal in place. Instead, upload a personal statement on your experience and motivation for this project.

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