PhD Researcher Peptide Immunomodulators (1.0 FTE)

Utrecht University
March 20 2017
Position Type
Full Time

The Division Molecular Host Defence of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology has two positions available for PhD students.

An innovative way to help preventing bacterial infections is the modulation of the immune system by molecules that are derived from components of the host's own innate immune system, such as Host Defence Peptides (HDPs). HDPs are antimicrobial peptides that directly kill bacteria but are currently also acknowledged as an essential part of the regulatory machinery of the immune system. HDPs are among the most active immune-modulating molecules and have the ability of both stimulating immunity as well as dampening the immune response if there is a threat of overstimulation. This combination of activities ensures protection but also reduces the risk for excessive inflammation.

Recent work in our group indicated that HDPs modulate signalling in macrophages by bacterial products. These peptides were shown to enhance sensing of bacterial DNA (via TLR9) and to dampen the LPS-induced inflammation via TLR4. Moreover, a very different response of macrophages was observed if live or dead bacteria were treated with HDPs. This suggests that the efficacy of vaccines may be improved by the addition of these peptides (patent and patents pending).

Considering the properties of peptides that have been developed thus far, we propose that peptides can be produced that improve the efficacy of vaccination. This hypothesis is explored within this project. The aim of this project is to develop technologies that direct the immune response by peptides with tailor-made immunomodulatory properties. The tasks of the candidates are to delineate the mechanisms of immunomodulation by the peptides to improve bacterial vaccines.

Candidate 1 will focus on Gram-positive bacteria and candidate 2 on Gram-negative bacteria. You will be a member of a (virtual) technology center for Bacterial Vaccines (Bac-Vactory) that includes investigators from Utrecht University, VU University Amsterdam, Radboud University Nijmegen, University of Technology Eindhoven, Wageningen Bioveterinary Research and several companies. The project is funded by TTW (STW Perspectief Program).

The Division Molecular Host Defence of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology focuses on host defence peptides and proteins of the innate immune system. The aims of the group are: (1) to understand the mechanisms of action of these molecules and (2) to apply the acquired knowledge to develop new strategies to prevent and treat infections in humans and animals.

You should have:

  • a Master's degree in Life Sciences or equivalent;

  • affinity with immunology and peptide chemistry;

  • interest to collaborate with scientists in academia, research institutes and industry.

This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess