PhD student opening – human milk extracellular vesicles for preterm brain development

We are seeking an ambitious PhD student to join our multidisciplinary research team. You will investigate the effects of human milk extracellular vesicles on brain development in preterm infants in a clinical and preclinical setting.

Preterm brain injury has severe life-long consequences and new treatments are urgently needed. Human milk feeding benefits preterm brain development by providing essential building blocks and bioactive compounds that affect development of the new-born. One of the bioactive components are extracellular vesicles (EVs), which are cell-derived vehicles for cell-cell communication. Milk EVs are interesting candidates for therapeutic application as they have anti-inflammatory and regenerative capacities and EVs can travel to the brain following intranasal administration.

This PhD position is part of the multidisciplinary ZonMw Open Competition funded project entitled “Breast milk Extracellular Vesicles for Baby Brains (EV4BB)”. By taking a bench-to-bedside approach, collaborating researchers of the UU and UMCU aim to decipher the anti-inflammatory and regenerative mechanism of action of milk EVs on brain cells and to deliver a protocol for the first-in-human efficacy trial on intranasal milk EV therapy for preterm brain injury.

Your challenge in this project is to unravel the effects of intranasal administration of milk EVs on preterm brain injury in a preclinical and a clinical setting. In a preclinical rodent model for preterm brain injury, you will investigate in vivo milk EV migration from the nasal cavity to the brain and determine milk EV binding/uptake by different neural cell types using advanced fluorescent microscopy and flow cytometric approaches. Additionally, you will assess the therapeutic benefits of intranasal milk EVs on inflammation and regeneration and on behavioral outcome. In a clinical setting, you will design and conduct a clinical trial to assess safety and feasibility of intranasal administration of EV-containing milk plasma in preterm infants with brain injury. You are responsible for patient inclusion and communication with parents. Additionally, you will explore the effects of intranasal milk EVs on preterm brain injury using advanced MRI techniques and on markers of inflammation and regeneration in cerebrospinal fluid. Your translational findings of this bench-to-bedside project will expand our knowledge on the importance of milk for brain development and contribute to the potential use of milk EVs as a treatment strategy for preterm brain injury.

You will be employed at the research Department for Developmental Origins of Disease (DDOD) and at the clinical Department of Neonatology at the Neonatal Neurology expertise center of the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital. This combined employment allows you to do translational research from bench to bedside under supervision of clinical experts on neonatal neurology and translational neuroscientist with expertise on pathophysiology and treatment of neonatal brain injury. Both departments are part of the UMC Utrecht Brain Center’s “Center for Translational Neuroscience” in which numerous neuroscience research labs work together in an interactive environment with access to high-end research techniques and facilities. You will also join the Cell Biology research group of the Department of Biomolecular Health Sciences at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine as part of EV4BB team. The research is also linked to Regenerative Medicine Utrecht, the hub of all regenerative medicine research and education at the Utrecht Science Park.

We are looking for an enthusiastic, creative team player with good organizational and communication skills and affinity with working in a multidisciplinary research team of clinicals and translational neuroscientists, who meets the following criteria:

  • Master’s degree in Medicine, Biomedical sciences, Neuroscience, Biology or in a related area.
  • You enjoy new scientific concepts and thrive in an international and ambitious research environment
  • Strong interest in translational neuroscience, and enthusiasm to bridge preclinical finding into clinical practice
  • In addition to strong social and communication skills, you possess a robust empathetic capacity to effectively engage with parents during times of busyness at the ward and stressful situations
  • A good command in English, both oral and written.
  • Art. 9 license for in vivo experimentation or the interest to obtain this license

We consider it an advantage if you bring either of the following:

  • Experience in MRI brain imaging.
  • Experience in in vivo experimentation.
  • Experience in (advanced) fluorescent microscopy.
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