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Investigating the role of mesenchymal stem cell populations in the pathogenesis of systemic idiopathic juvenile arthritis

Project Description

The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is part of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. We excel in high quality research that contributes to improved health and quality of life for older people and animals and alleviates chronic diseases at all ages. Our departments are now seeking to attract highly motivated self-funded PhD candidates of outstanding ability to join our internationally rated research teams.

The Department of Musculoskeletal Biology brings together the largest group of researchers in musculoskeletal biology in the UK. The Department now houses the newly awarded MRC-ARUK Centre for Integrated research into Musculoskeletal Ageing. Musculoskeletal biology, and specifically musculoskeletal ageing, is a priority area for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. The Department currently comprises 40 academic staff including research scientists, clinical and veterinary staff undertaking basic and clinical research in musculoskeletal biology and medicine closely linked to NHS partners and veterinary hospitals.

This project will characterise the role of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in the pathogenesis of systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (sJIA). sJIA is an autoimmune, inflammatory disease of unknown cause that is characterised by a prominent systemic inflammatory reaction coupled with the development of arthritis in the joints as the disease progresses. Treatment typically involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; through in some cases patients require a bone marrow transplant. Despite the improvements in the clinical management of sJIA a greater understanding of the pathology is required in order to improve diagnostic techniques and advance treatment options.

MSCs are a class of adult stem cells that are able to regulate both innate and adaptive immune responses by the production of anti-inflammatory proteins and by interaction with T-lymphocytes, dendritic cells and natural killer cells. The multi-disciplinary project will use clinical samples to characterise the stem cell phenotype of MSCs taken from patients with sJIA compared to those from control donors. Differences in the ability of the MSC populations to mediate immune responses will be evaluated with the aim of understanding their role in the development and progression of sJIA and the identification of novel therapeutic targets. The student will develop a broad range of laboratory techniques including cell culture, gene expression analysis, Western blotting, immunofluorescence, flow cytometry and ELISA.

The project will be split between the research laboratories at the Leahurst Campus of the University of Liverpool and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. All postgraduate students undertake the PGR Development Programme which aims to enhance their skills for a successful research experience and career. They are required to maintain an online record of their progress and record their personal and professional development throughout their research degree. The 1st Year Development Workshops encourage inter- and cross-disciplinary thinking and identify and develop the knowledge, skills, behaviours and personal qualities that all students require. In the 2nd year all students take part in a Poster Day to provide an opportunity to present their research to a degree educated general public, and in the 3rd year students complete a career development module. Other online training, such as ‘Managing your supervisor’ and ‘Thesis writing’ is provided centrally.

The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is fully committed to promoting gender equality in all activities. We offer a supportive working environment with flexible family support for all our staff and students and applications for part-time study are encouraged. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

Informal enquiries regarding this project should be made to Dr Rachel Oldershaw ).
To apply send your CV and covering letter by email to Dr Oldershaw with a copy to

Funding Notes

The successful candidate should have, or expect to have an Honours Degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent). Candidates whose first language is not English should have an IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent.
The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees, living expenses and research costs (bench fees) of £8,000 per year. There is NO funding attached to this project. Details of costs can be found on the University website. We encourage applications from students of any nationality able to fund their own studies or who wish to apply for their own funding.


1) Martini A (2012) Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis Autoimmunity Reviews 12, 56-59.
2) Cipriani P (2013) Stem cells in autoimmune diseases: Implications for pathogenesis and future trends in therapy. Autoimmune Reviews 12, 709-716.

How good is research at University of Liverpool in Clinical Medicine?
(joint submission with Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 143.50

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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