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Investigating the determinants of trans-placental antibody transfer


   Department of Metabolism, Digestion & Reproduction

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  Dr Beth Holder  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Applications are invited for a funded 4-year PhD studentship at the Department of Metabolism, Development, and Reproduction. This studentship is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, and is part of a wider international consortium investigating the impact of maternal influences on the infant immune system.

We are seeking a highly motivated student to work between the reproductive immunology group led by Dr Beth Holder within the Institutes of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at the Hammersmith Campus and Dr. Fiona Culley’s group in the National Heart and Lung Institute at the St Mary’s Campus.

Infectious diseases remain the leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age, especially in low- and middle-income countries. The highest burden of infection and severe outcomes occurs in the first months of life. During pregnancy, the placenta actively transfers antibody from the maternal circulation to the fetus, providing some passive immunity to the infant during this period. Maternal vaccination takes advantage of this phenomenon by increasing the transfer of antigen-specific maternal antibodies to the fetus. The success of this strategy in preventing tetanus, influenza and pertussis infection in the mother-infant dyad has stimulated considerable interest for the use of maternal vaccination as a key platform to promote maternal and child health worldwide. However, there is still gaps in our knowledge regarding the exact determinants of efficient antibody transfer across the placenta, which could aid in the better design of future vaccines and antibody therapeutics.

 The aim of the project is to utilise human placenta cell and tissue models to comprehensively screen the drivers of efficient or inefficient antibody transfer from mother to fetus during pregnancy. This will include the establishment of a novel organ-on-a-chip system to model the transfer between maternal and fetal circulations in vitro. Natural and engineered antibodies for the system will be provided by collaborators at Dartmouth College, USA. This will allow us to identify specific antibody parameters linked to placental transfer. The student will gain expertise in cell and tissue biology, including extensive work with isolation and culture of primary cells, organ-on-a-chip models, fluorescence microscopy, immunostaining, cellular function assays, and immunology. There may also be the opportunity to travel to collaborator’s institutes in the USA.

 Applicants should note that the project will require them to work with human tissue samples from both term deliveries and from terminations of pregnancy.

Please send a single PDF document including a one-page cover letter discussing research interest and experiences, a two-page CV, a copy of transcripts, and contact information of two references to Mrs. Elizabeth Barnes ([Email Address Removed]) with subject line “Antibody_PhD_App” before the closing date of 30th September 2021 (midnight).


Funding Notes

The studentship provides an annual stipend of £18,000 for 4 years (start date October-December 2021). It also provides funding of tuition fees at the Home fee rate. This position is open to those who qualify for home fee status..Applicants must have a first or upper second-class BSc degree or equivalent, in a relevant area of immunology, cell biology, molecular biology or biochemistry. A relevant MSc/MRes and/or laboratory-based research experience in immunology, cell biology or microscopy is a major advantage. Applicants must also meet Imperial College’s English language requirements.

References

Please send a single PDF document including a one-page cover letter discussing research interest and experiences, a two-page CV, a copy of transcripts, and contact information of two references to Mrs. Elizabeth Barnes (e.barnes@imperial.ac.uk) with subject line “Antibody_PhD_App” before the closing date of 30th September 2021 (midnight).
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