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PhD Studentship in Respiratory Viral Immunology

   National Heart and Lung Institute

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  Dr Joe Fenn  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Applications are invited from candidates that hold, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second-class undergraduate degree or UK equivalent in a relevant subject. A master’s degree in a relevant subject (immunology or virology) is preferable.

Summary of Research

Vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 afford protection from severe clinical outcomes of infection, yet offer limited protection from infection in part due to rapidly waning antibody and T cell responses. Furthermore, the emergence of successive SARS-CoV-2 vaccine escape variants is evidence for the need for more broadly protective vaccines and preventative interventions.

Prior to the global COVID-19 vaccination programme, it was observed that some individuals resist SARS-CoV-2 infection despite high levels of exposure to the virus, and others become infected but experience very mild or asymptomatic infections. This is evidence that naturally occurring immune responses that effectively protect from infection or disease occur commonly in the general population. Understanding the immunological mechanisms underlying this phenomenon would contribute to the rational design of novel pan-variant vaccines and other interventions. During this 3-year PhD studentship the successful candidate will characterise local mucosal immune signatures associated with resistance to infection and elite control of infection, ie infection with minimal or no symptoms.

To characterise local immune responses associated with resistance to or superior control of infection, the candidate will leverage a globally unique biobank established by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Respiratory Infections consisting of nasal mucosal, blood and saliva samples collected from the household contacts of COVID-19 index cases early after exposure. These contacts were recruited during the 2nd pandemic wave from September 2020 through March 2021 in London as part of the INSTINCT and ATACCC studies. Approximately one third of exposed individuals became infected. The cohort was longitudinally sampled from 4 days post-exposure onwards. These samples present the opportunity to measure local and early immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 exposure at the level of soluble immune mediators e.g. cytokine and chemokines using Meso-Scale Discovery (MSD) and at the gene-expression level using Nanostring nCounter and RT-PCR analyses. Data generated will be analysed in the context of comprehensive demographic, clinical and virological data which has already been generated for the cohort. The studentship will define early and local immune responses that associate with optimal outcomes following SARS-CoV-2 exposure including natural resistance to infection in order to inform the development of novel, broadly protective vaccines and interventions against SARS-CoV-2.

The successful applicant will be based in the NIHR HPRU in Respiratory Infections, St Marys Campus, which provides an exciting research environment and excellent PhD student training opportunities, including research seminars and journal clubs. The HPRU is a multidisciplinary consortium comprising world-class expertise in all areas of laboratory, public health, epidemiology and health-economic sciences, partnered with the UK Health Security Agency. This project will be carried out in close collaboration with clinical teams embedded in the section, and the institute provides extensive collaborative opportunities with other research groups.

Imperial College London provides excellent opportunities for research students' training. All students benefit from a full programme of training in research and transferable skills organised through the Graduate School, the quality of which has been recognised several times at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards.

How to Apply

Applicants must hold, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second-class undergraduate degree or UK equivalent in a relevant subject, and a master’s degree in a relevant subject (immunology or virology) is preferable. To apply please send a CV, a one-page personal statement, and the names and addresses of at least two academic referees to Dr. Joe Fenn at [Email Address Removed].

Final deadline for submission of applications: 25th July 2022.

Please note that candidates must fulfil College admissions criteria.

Funding Notes

The studentship will be funded for 3 years with a tax-free bursary of £18,000 per annum plus Tuition fees, at the rate applicable to UK Home students. Suitably qualified students non-eligible for home tuition fees are welcome to apply but will be responsible for paying the difference between the home and overseas fee rates. Eligibility criteria for home tuition are outlined here: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/study/pg/fees-and-funding/tuition-fees/fee-status/.
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