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Exploiting the bacterial surface for new vaccines

Principal Supervisor: Profs Adam Cunningham, Ian Henderson, Institutes of Immunology and Immunotherapy and Microbiology and Infection

Non-Academic partner: Dr Francesca Micoli – GSK Vaccine for Global Health, Siena, Italy

PhD project title: Exploiting the bacterial surface for new vaccines

University of Registration: University of Birmingham

This position would receive the standard stipend of at least £14,296 per annum plus an additional £3000 supplement per annum (with additional funding for travel) from GSK/GVGH.

Project outline:

In recent years The University of Birmingham (UoB) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Vaccines Institute for Global Health (GVGH) have been working closely together on a number of projects focusing on how we can generate better vaccines to protect against a range of infections. One part of this research programme has focused on the immune response to outer membrane vesicles released by Gram-negative bacteria. Genetically modifying bacteria can result in large numbers of these membrane-derived particles, called Generalized Modules for Membrane Antigens (GMMA), being released by bacteria. These can be readily purified and are a powerful platform for delivering protective antigens to the host, but also let us ask exciting questions around how the immune responses to bacterial antigens develop and function.

Understanding the immune response to GMMA-based vaccines forms the basis of this PhD project and the student will pursue an integrated program of research involving the joint strengths of GVGH and UoB. The student will primarily be based in the groups of Prof. Adam Cunningham and Prof. Ian Henderson in UoB but will also spend at least three months working in GVGH in Siena, Italy. By the end of the project the student will be expected to; i) have developed at least one novel vaccine candidate and ii) identify the mechanisms that underpin its function. To do this the student will develop expertise in basic immunology and translational vaccinology. It is an attractive opportunity for a student with an interest in immune responses to pathogens to develop a career that has academic and industrial training and both partners encourage publication of the results generated.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: World Class Biosciences: Molecular Mechanisms and Food Security: Microbiology

This project, studying the generation and activity of new vaccines, is at the interphase between multiple disciplines: Immunology, Vaccinology, Microbiology and Biochemistry and works in the context of both academia and industry. An exciting facet of the project is that the student will use molecular techniques to generate the new vaccines to test in established immunization-challenge models and examine the level of protection they provide and the mechanisms through which they function. As part of this, we will examine how the immune response develops to individual component antigens within the vaccine and this new approach will allow us to dissect the protection afforded in a previously unexplored way.

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project (selective examples):

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular biology
  • Protein Purification
  • Flow Cytometry
  • ELISA/ELISPOT
  • Cell Biology
  • Imaging (Immunohistology and confocal microscopy)

Contact: Professor Adam Cunningham, University of Birmingham