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MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership: Developing innovative platforms for monitoring immunity to respiratory viruses of pandemic potential

   MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership

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  Dr A Peden, Dr T De Silva, Prof J Sayers  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the morbidity and mortality caused by respiratory viruses globally. The availability of tools to accurately measure population immunity is vital not only to establish the immune correlates of protection to circulating viruses, but also to deploy rapidly in future pandemics. The overarching aim of this studentship is­­­­­­ to develop and validate a novel platform for detecting serological responses to respiratory viruses using high content microscopy and apply this to gain insight into immunity to viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, seasonal coronaviruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Peden (, Dr de Silvia ( and Professor Jon Sayers ( have worked together to develop a novel workflow which allows the most immunogenic component of any sequenced virus to be rapidly identified (2-3 weeks) without the requirement for purified protein. This approach is now being used to study and differentiate the immune response of individuals either vaccinated and/or infected with SARS-CoV-2. This platform has attracted interest from the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations as a solution to rapidly establish serological diagnostics in future pandemics, as well as a means for serological monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the era of widespread vaccination.

We have also established an exciting collaboration with Senzo ( an innovative diagnostic company that has developed an ELISA-based detection platform 100-1000 more sensitive than current protocols. This opens up the translational opportunity where proteins characterised by our platform can be developed into field diagnostics for use with non-invasive samples such as saliva. This project represents an exciting training opportunity where the student will develop cutting edge skills in advanced microscopy, protein production, neutralisation assays and serology. The candidate, will also have the opportunity to gain invaluable industrial experience by working with Senzo during their placement.

Benefits of being in the DiMeN DTP:

This project is part of the Discovery Medicine North Doctoral Training Partnership (DiMeN DTP), a diverse community of PhD students across the North of England researching the major health problems facing the world today. Our partner institutions (Universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and Sheffield) are internationally recognised as centres of research excellence and can offer you access to state-of the-art facilities to deliver high impact research.

We are very proud of our student-centred ethos and committed to supporting you throughout your PhD. As part of the DTP, we offer bespoke training in key skills sought after in early career researchers, as well as opportunities to broaden your career horizons in a range of non-academic sectors.

Being funded by the MRC means you can access additional funding for research placements, international training opportunities or internships in science policy, science communication and beyond. See how our current DiMeN students have benefited from this funding here: 

Further information on the programme and how to apply can be found on our website: 

Funding Notes

iCASE Award: Industrial partnership project
Fully funded by the MRC for 4yrs, including a minimum of 3 months working with an industry partner.

Funding will cover tuition fees and an enhanced stipend (around £20,168). We also aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of full studentships to international applicants. Please read additional guidance here:
Studentships commence: 1st October 2023
Good luck!


Comparative host-coronavirus protein interaction networks reveal pan-viral disease mechanisms. Science (2020) 4:370. DOI: 10.1126/science.abe9403.
A high content microscopy-based platform for detecting antibodies to the nucleocapsid, spike and membrane proteins of SARS-CoV-2. Preprint:
T-cell and antibody responses to the first BNT162b2 vaccine dose in previously SARS-CoV-2-infected and infection-naïve UK healthcare workers: a multicentre, prospective, observational cohort study. Lancet Microbe. In Press. Preprint:
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