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MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership: Targeted assays for screening and treatment stratification of COVID-19 and other viral infections


MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership

Liverpool United Kingdom Analytical Chemistry Biochemistry Bioinformatics Biotechnology Cell Biology Immunology Virology

About the Project

As of mid-October 2020, ~40M people globally are reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV2 (CoVID-19); over 1.1M people have had SARS-CoV2 listed as a cause of death. These numbers are likely only a small proportion of the people worldwide who have been infected or died as a result of CoVID-19, which has spread rapidly in part due to an inability (or unwillingness) for certain populations to adopt simple preventative measures e.g. minimising contact with others and the wearing of masks. The fact that not all people infected with CoVID-19 are debilitated (indeed it appears that some are asymptomatic) has likely contributed to the reticence of adopting these simple preventative measures, but is also the reason that we must establish both a population-based screening strategy (independent of symptoms) and a better understanding of disease severity and long-term health implications. 

As part of the UK mass spectrometry (MS) coalition, we are working with NHS England Test & Trace to pilot a MS-based strategy for high-throughput screening of CoVID-19 for clinical adoption. We are also developing screens for other common ‘winter’ respiratory viruses i.e. (flu, RSV). Simultaneously through a UKRI-funded project, we are investigating the consequences of SARS-CoV2 infection in the circulatory system (analyzing a cohort of ~1000 samples), looking for protein markers that can be used for treatment stratification, with a view to better understanding the causes of disease severity and thus streamlining treatment options based on predicted outcome. Working with our industrial partner, Thermo Fisher Scientific, the next steps will be validation, and development of clinically robust assays for rapid evaluation of likely disease severity, which can be used to guide clinical intervention.

Specific objectives: 

1) Validate prognostic serum markers of severity of infection with SARS-CoV2

2) Develop a sensitive SureQuant IS targeted MS assays for stratification of SARS-CoV2 infected patients to work alongside infection-based screening assays.

3) Biochemical investigation of the prognostic markers identified with a view to understanding mechanisms driving disease severity and exploring treatment options. 

Research Environment & Student Training:

This studentship will be located primarily in the Centre for Proteome Research (CPR; https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/cpr) at the University of Liverpool, led by Prof. Claire Eyers, and where Dr. Emmott is also located. The CPR, is a vibrant and collaborative internationally leading biological MS centre, well equipped with 12 state-of-the art LC-MS instruments. They will receive state-of-the art training in quantitative liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry-based proteomics analysis of patient-derived samples (including single cell proteomics), virology, cell culture, protein chemistry/biochemistry, and cell signaling, as well as the necessary proteomics data science, and will further benefit from working alongside the many students and staff within the CPR. As an iCASE studentship, the successful candidate will also spend time at the labs of the industrial partner Thermo Fisher Scientific, who will provide expertise and training in fundamental mass spectrometry and data analytics. 

Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the lead supervisor, Prof. Claire Eyers () for further details before making an application.

iCASE industrial partner website

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 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: http://www.dimen.org.uk/overview/student-profiles/flexible-supplement-awards

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

https://bit.ly/3lQXR8A 


Funding Notes

Funded by the MRC for 3.5yrs, including a minimum of 3 months working within the industry partner.

Funding will cover UK tuition fees and an enhanced stipend (around £17,785) only. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme. Please read additional guidance here: View Website
Studentships commence: 1st October 2021.
Good luck!

References

Struwe et al., Lancet (2020) doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31211-3
Hardman et al. The EMBO journal (2019) 38 (21), e100847;
Ferries et al., Journal of Proteome Research (2017) 16:3448.

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