PhD candidate, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, School NUTRIM / Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

PhD candidate, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, School NUTRIM / Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Published Deadline Location
19 Mar 5 Apr Maastricht

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PhD position: Assessing toxicity of microplastics on airway- and intestinal epithelial cells using advanced in vitro models.

Job description

Micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs, plastic particles ≤ 5 mm) are increasingly found in our environment and our food. Exposure of humans to MNPs is most prominent via the oral route (ingestion) and respiratory route (inhalation). Recent findings indicate that it is highly likely that MNPs can cross the epithelial barrier in the airways/lungs and in the intestines (and thus may exert detrimental biological effects in the human body). One of the specific goals of this project is to further investigate the potential and mechanistics of the ability of MNPs to cross these epithelial barriers. Secondly, this project aims to identify any potential detrimental biological effects of MNPs on the epithelial cells that make up these barriers.

To address these research questions, this project will deploy simple and more advanced in vitro cell culture systems. These will include cell lines as well as human primary cells of airway/lung- as well as intestinal epithelial cells. Simple cell systems will include cell lines of the cell types of interest exposed to MNPs in submerged culture conditions. More advanced in vitro models will include air-liquid interface (ALI) systems (to mimic inhalation-based exposure of bronchial epithelial cells to MNPs) as well as co-culture models of primary bronchial epithelial cells with different cell types that make up the cellular micro-environment of these cells (including immune cells).

 The effects of MNPs on these different intestinal and airway/lung epithelial cells in these models will be evaluated by assessing parameters related to cell viability, oxidative stress, DNA damage and inflammation. In addition, as mitochondria are key players in most of these above-mentioned cellular processes (including oxidative stress, cell death and inflammation), effects of MNPs on mitochondrial function and the molecular pathways controlling this (mitochondrial biogenesis vs mitophagy) will be investigated. 

In this project, relevant read-out parameters will be investigated by using state-of-the-art molecular biology tools and in the end this should result in a PhD thesis. Furthermore, the results of these studies will be used to assess whether or not the implementation of novel guidelines related to the generation of MNPs in manufacturing/production processes is warranted in order to reduce human exposure and detrimental health effects of these particles.


Maastricht University (UM)


You have a Master’s degree in the Molecular Biology/BioMedical Sciences/Biotechnology field and you would like to develop further in this area. You have a real researcher’s mentality; open-minded, curious, enthusiastic, inquisitive and accurate. You are capable of working independently, but you are also a team player. You have good organization and communication skills and master the English language. As this project focusses on the biological effects of microplastics on lung/airway- and intestinal epithelial cells, the candidate is expected to have a great interest in cell biology and molecular biology. Any previous experience with cell cultures and state-of-the-art molecular biology tools are recommended. Moreover, the candidate is expected to have excellent scientific English writing and presentation skills. This project is in close collaboration with TNO and the candidate will perform part of the experiments at TNO.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 48 months.

Temporary employment for 4 years. The first year will be a probation period, after a positive assessment the position will be extended for another 3 years, which happens in the vast majority of cases. Each year an evaluation will take place.

Your salary would be € 2.395,- gross per month in the first year up to € 3.061,- gross per month in the fourth year according to the PhD-candidate salary scale. On top of this, there is an 8% holiday and an 8.3% year-end allowance.

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 > Support > UM employees.


Maastricht University

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 20,000 students and 4,700 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.

NUTRIM School for Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism

NUTRIM School for Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism is part of the Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences of the Maastricht University. NUTRIM catalyses translational research into metabolic and chronic inflammatory disorders (i.e. metabolic syndrome/diabetes, IBD/intestinal failure and COPD) that will contribute to innovative personalized lifestyle and medicine approaches with a focus on nutrition, toxicology and metabolism. Within NUTRIM, approximately 400 scientists including 245 PhD students, and an additional 70 support staff members work interdisciplinary together in 16 Biomedical, clinical, and behavioral-science departments. Through its research master and PhD programme NUTRIM aims to educate investigators of high scientific excellence and ambassadors to support and develop this research field.

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TNO (Nederlandse organisatie voor Toegepast-Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek) is one of the major contract research organisations in Europe. With a staff of approximately 2,600 and an annual turnover of 580 million euros, TNO is carrying out research in order to achieve impact within the following nine units: Healthy Living; Industry; Traffic & Transport; Energy; Buildings; Infrastructure & Maritime; Information & Communication Technology; Defence, Safety and Security; Circular Economy & Environment; and Strategic Analysis & Policy. TNO functions as an intermediary between research organisations and industry. By translating scientific knowledge into practical applications, TNO contributes to the innovation capacity of businesses and government. TNO is involved in many international projects (about 30% of the market turnover), including EU-funded collaborations.

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Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology

This project is situated within the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology where a multidisciplinary team of biologists, chemists and toxicologists is working together to address mechanisms by which environmental chemicals and oxidative stress alter cellular processes to cause diseases and study the way in which intervention is possible. To reach these goals, the department's laboratory is well equipped with facilities for chemical analysis including mass spectrometry (MS) and electron spin resonance (ESR), the analysis of DNA damage and multiple state-of-the-art molecular biological techniques. The research is carried out on a (bio) chemical, cellular, tissue or whole organism level. The department consists of 16 staff members (4 professors, 3 senior lecturers and 9 lecturers/postdocs), 6 support technicians and 15 PhD students.




  • PhD; Research, development, innovation
  • Natural sciences; Health
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2395—€3061 per month
  • University graduate
  • AT2021.88


Maastricht University (UM)

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Universiteitssingel 40, 6229 GR, Maastricht

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