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Immune therapy for the treatment of cancer holds great promise, yet it is also characterized by strong variability in responsiveness between patients. Since appropriate immune responses strongly correlate with metabolic health, we postulate that stimulation of ‘immune fitness’ by modulation of metabolic health using dietary interventions will improve the efficacy of immune therapy in cancer. Using a translational approach, activity and responsiveness of the immune system and metabolic health status will be determined and modulated in relevant preclinical cancer models, applying specific dietary interventions to evaluate their potential to improve the therapeutic efficacy of immune therapy by using checkpoint inhibitors. While the link between nutrition and immunity is well established, within this project we aim to determine, for the first time, the potential of nutritional interventions to stimulate cancer immunotherapy through modulation of metabolic health.
We seek a talented PhD candidate to join our interdisciplinary team. You will be performing translational oncology studies involving in vivo experiments, analysis of metabolic health measurements (including liver enzymes, lipid profiling, oxidative stress levels, expression of genes related to metabolism and fat uptake and storage, tissue and plasma markers for inflammation, humoral and cellular markers of immune fitness, body weight and muscle mass/force measurements.
In addition, tumor-specific analyses will be performed to evaluate the effect of dietary interventions directed specifically towards the tumor and its micro-environment itself. These analyses include tumor growth follow-up and quantification of tumor micro-environmental, metabolic and immunological parameters. In a next step, you will quantify the therapeutic ratio of immunotherapy upon different nutritional intervention strategies and correlate dietary habits and metabolic profiles in human cohorts to immune fitness profiles.
Under dedicated supervision, you will be responsible to successfully complete your PhD training program, present at (inter)national scientific conferences and report in scientific renowned journals.
The research will be carried out within the research groups of A/Prof. Jan Theys (M-lab, Department of Precision Medicine, GROW Research School) and Prof. R. Sverdlov (Department of Molecular Genetics, NUTRIM). Throughout this collaboration, expertise in the fields of preclinical research in nutrition, inflammation, and metabolic health is combined with translational research in the fields of oncology and immunotherapy. The candidate will also closely work with scientists from Nutricia Research, a committed partner with expertise and know how on nutrition and metabolism in cancer, immune modulatory nutrients, development of nutritional intervention and analysis of specific biochemical parameters and biomarkers.
• The candidate finished a Master in Biomedical Sciences, Medical Biology, Life Sciences or a related Master
• The candidate has a strong and enthusiastic motivation for a PhD track in translational public health research
• The candidate has affinity with the fields of metabolism, oncology and inflammation
• The candidate has well-developed general molecular biology skills (RNA/DNA isolation, gene expression, qPCR, immunoblotting,..), experience with cell culture, flow cytometry, staining procedures and microscopy
• The candidate holds a license to and has experience with work with animals (mouse models)
• The candidate has excellent writing skills
• The candidate has an analytical mind-set and an independent work attitude
• The candidate has the profile of a team player with good communication skills (in English) and a respectful attitude towards colleagues and collaborators
Fixed-term contract: 4 years.
The terms of employment of Maastricht University are set out in the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO). Furthermore, local UM provisions also apply. For more information look at the website http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl > Support > UM employees.
We offer a full-time position within Maastricht University at the Department of Precision
Medicine/Molecular genetics , at the faculty of Health, medicine and Life Sciences (FHML).
The salary corresponds to the PhD-student salary scale.
Each year an evaluation will take place.
Maastricht University is renowned for its unique, innovative, problem-based learning system, which is characterized by a small-scale and student-oriented approach. Research at UM is characterized by a multidisciplinary and thematic approach, and is concentrated in research institutes and schools. Maastricht University has around 18,000 students and 4,300 employees. Reflecting the university's strong international profile, a fair amount of both students and staff are from abroad. The university hosts 6 faculties: Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Faculty of Law, School of Business and Economics, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience.
The Precision Medicine department at FHML consists of two laboratories, each with its own type of research:
- The "dry lab" (The D-Lab) is focused on building multi-factorial decision support systems with a focus on quantitative image analysis (view the animation: https://vimeo.com/241154708) and data management.
- The "wet lab", (The M-Lab) is focused on translational research aiming at targeting the tumor microenvironment, metabolism and the immune system of tumors.
The department has a longstanding expertise in preclinical oncology research and has extensive experience with big data analysis. We are a young, enthusiastic and multidisciplinary team with wide expertise covering research with (pre)clinical data, clinical studies and "virtual clinical trials".
Within the department of Molecular Genetics, modern biological tools are being used to disclose to influence of environmental factors, lifestyle, nutrition and pharmacologics on metabolism, inflammatory processes, specific genes and signaling pathways. Our experiments span from basic to translational science and include both animal and human studies. The results are expected to influence a wide area of research into obesity, diabetes, NASH, oncology, metabolic syndrome and others. This together with internal and external collaborations (both on national and international level) with fundamental scientists and clinicians ensures top-notch research with high scientific and social impact.
GROW focuses on research of (epi)genetic and cellular mechanisms underlying normal (embryonic and fetal) and abnormal (cancer) development. Also (micro)environmental factors influencing these processes are studied. The emphasis is on translational research aiming at innovative approaches for individualizing prevention, patient diagnostics and treatment.