PhD candidate on a stem cell therapy for cornea regeneration at the MERLN Institute

PhD candidate on a stem cell therapy for cornea regeneration at the MERLN Institute

Published Deadline Location
23 May 16 Jun Maastricht

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Job description

Job description
We seek a PhD candidate to join our team developing cell therapies for ophthalmic diseases and conditions. The overall aim of this project is to develop a new stem cell–derived therapy to restore vision in patients with corneal endothelial disease.

The human cornea is a transparent tissue through which light enters the eye. Its innermost layer is composed of a tightly packed layer of corneal endothelial cells (hCEnCs). The density of our hCEnCs decreases with age, and diseases such as Fuchs’ endothelial corneal dystrophy or iatrogenic damage after surgery accelerate their loss, leading to corneal endothelial disease. The characteristic corneal oedema and opacity are a leading cause of blindness.

The state-of-the-art treatment for corneal endothelial disease is a Descemet’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty, namely the replacement of the dysfunctional layer of hCEnCs with tissue from a donor. Unfortunately, this therapy has shortcomings in both its availability and its efficacy. The supply of donor tissue is limited by stringent criteria. In fact, there are an estimated 12.7 M people worldwide awaiting treatment due to the lack of tissue availability.

Our team is leading the RegMed XB Cornea Moonshot, a public–private partnership in which we aim to develop a cure corneal endothelial disease based on pluripotent stem cells differentiated into corneal endothelial cells and delivered to the diseased eye. This PhD project is primarily about improving the stem cell differentiation protocol, but we will also have collaborative activities with other partners and will take the first steps towards clinical translation by engaging with regulatory and IP experts and performing an in vivo pre-clinical study.

Candidates should possess a master’s degree in a relevant field (e.g., in the biomedical sciences, molecular biology, etc.) or have experience that demonstrates their affinity for this topic if they have a different educational background. Candidates who have done their bachelor’s degree in a country where it is the norm to directly enter a PhD afterwards (e.g., USA) are welcome to apply without a master’s degree, but must demonstrate significant independent research experience (e.g., a research thesis and/or extracurricular research).

The desired candidate has studied cell biology, particularly cell signalling. They should have practical skills in (stem) cell culture and several molecular techniques. Knowledge of cell therapies, regenerative medicine, and ophthalmology are all viewed positively but are not required.

We are looking for creative thinkers who are prepared to take on highly challenging aims. The project will suit an ambitious candidate who wants to perform translational research. Excellent knowledge of scientific English for speaking, reading, and writing are required. Knowledge of Dutch is not required.

What we offer
As PhD candidate on a stem cell therapy for cornea regeneration at the MERLN Institute at Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, you will be employed by the most international university in the Netherlands, located in the beautiful city of Maastricht. In addition, we offer you:
  • Good employment conditions. The position is graded in scale P according to UFO profile PhD, with corresponding salary based on experience ranging from €2770,00 and €3539,00 gross per month (based on a full-time employment of 38 hours per week). In addition to the monthly salary, an 8.0% holiday allowance and an 8.3% year-end bonus apply.
  • An employment contract for a period of 12 months with a scope of 1,0 FTE. Upon a positive evaluation, an extension of 3 years will follow.
  • At Maastricht University, the well-being of our employees is of utmost importance, we offer flexible working hours and the possibility to work partly from home if the nature of your position allows it. You will receive a monthly commuting and internet allowance for this. If you work full-time, you will be entitled to 29 vacation days and 4 additional public holidays per year, namely carnival Monday, carnival Tuesday, Good Friday, and Liberation Day. If you choose to accumulate compensation hours, an additional 12 days will be added. Furthermore, you can personalize your employment conditions through a collective labor agreement (CAO) choice model.
  • As Maastricht University, we offer various other excellent secondary employment conditions. These include a good pension scheme with the ABP and the opportunity for UM employees to participate in company fitness and make use of the extensive sports facilities that we also offer to our students.
  • Last but certainly not least, we provide the space and facilities for your personal and professional development. We facilitate this by offering a wide range of training programs and supporting various well-established initiatives such as 'acknowledge and appreciate'.

The terms of employment at Maastricht University are largely set out in the collective labor agreement of Dutch Universities. In addition, local provisions specific to UM apply. For more information, click here.

Maastricht University
Why work at Maastricht University?
At Maastricht University (UM), everything revolves around the future. The future of our students, as we work to equip them with a solid, broad-based foundation for the rest of their lives. And the future of society, as we seek solutions through our research to issues from all around the world. Our six faculties combined provide a comprehensive package of study programmes and research.

In our teaching, we use the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) method. Students work in small groups, looking for solutions to problems themselves. By discussing issues and working together to draw conclusions, formulate answers and present them to their peers, students develop essential skills for their future careers.

With over 22,300 students and more than 5,000 employees from all over the world, UM is home to a vibrant and inspiring international community.

Are you drawn to an international setting focused on education, science and scholarship? Are you keen to contribute however your skills and qualities allow? Our door is open to you! As a young European university, we value your talent and look forward to creating the future together.

Click here for more information about UM.

Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences
At the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML), everything revolves around healthy living. Our research and education are not solely focused on recovery, but place a strong emphasis on prevention, health preservation, and health promotion. Our aim is to use our knowledge and expertise to genuinely contribute to the well-being of individual people as well as society in total.

In, research, and healthcare, FHML is closely collaborating with the academic hospital in Maastricht, together forming the Maastricht University Medical Center (MUMC+). FHML is strongly connected in education, research, and care with the Maastricht academic hospital, together with which it forms the Maastricht University Medical Centre (MUMC+).

FHML, which is the largest faculty of Maastricht University, is formed by an (inter)national community of employees and students. The faculty offers a wide range of Dutch and English-taught bachelor's and master's programs in innovative educational concepts in which the emphasis is always on building bridges to practice.

The multidisciplinary research of the FHML focuses on a number of carefully chosen topical current themes. In addition to research aimed at gaining new insights, it also concerns research whose results can be directly translated into concrete applications and innovations. The implementation of the various research programs is organized in our six graduate schools and two institutes.

The successful candidate will have a cross-disciplinary supervision team comprising Dr Vanessa LaPointe (MERLN Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine) and Dr Mor Dickman (University Eye Clinic Maastricht).

The candidate will mainly perform this research in the laboratory of Dr LaPointe at the MERLN Institute at Maastricht University. At MERLN, we are a collaborative, international, and interdisciplinary group with diverse expertise, including biomaterials science, chemistry, tissue engineering, and (stem) cell biology. We share newly renovated laboratory facilities with modern equipment. We have a long history as leaders in the field of tissue engineering and are particularly well-known for our orientation towards translational research.

The University Eye Clinic/Maastricht University Medical Center+ is one the largest academic departments of ophthalmology in Europe. The department is built on a strong foundation of medical education, research, and clinical care. Our clinicians provide care ranging from the routine to the very complex. Scientific work is focused on corneal diseases, cataract, and glaucoma, and is driven by a mission to understand and discover the basis for these conditions, and to develop treatments with a direct impact for patients and society

Doing a PhD in the Netherlands
For those unfamiliar with the Dutch PhD system, it is the norm to take four years to complete the laboratory work for the degree and submit a thesis comprising several experimental chapters (which can be published papers). It is a full-time research degree, with only optional course work. A PhD candidate at the MERLN Institute can expect to spend ~5% of their time teaching. PhD candidates are paid a salary and receive benefits along with an 8% holiday and 8.3% year-end bonus given annually. Candidates who need to relocate may be eligible for compensation. The terms of employment are set out in the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO-UNL), and local Maastricht University provisions also apply (see

Applying from abroad?
MERLN houses researchers from across the globe who have successfully navigated the transition of moving to the Netherlands. Maastricht University is the most international university in the Netherlands with more than 20,000 students and 4,400 employees. Thanks to its high-quality research and education as well as a strong focus on social engagement, Maastricht University has quickly built up a reputation as one of the best young universities in the world.

Maastricht, where we are located, is itself a warm and welcoming city. The city is known for its fine cuisine, excellent shops, and multicultural atmosphere. The founding city of the EU is an international hub with inhabitants from around the world. English is widely spoken, which has helped create a unique and vibrant international community. Thanks to Maastricht’s central position in Europe, it is only a short drive away from Belgium, Germany, France and the rest of the Netherlands. The city is family-friendly and possesses an international school and several excellent primary schools.

Are you interested in this exciting position but still have questions? Feel free to contact Vanessa LaPointe at for more information.

Or are you already convinced and ready to become our new PhD candidate on a stem cell therapy for cornea regeneration at the MERLN Institute? Apply now, no later than June 16th, 2024 for this position.

Please upload your CV and motivation letter.

The vacancy is open for internal and external candidates. In case of equal qualifications, internal candidates will be prioritized.

Maastricht University is committed to promoting and nurturing a diverse and inclusive community. We believe that diversity in our staff and student population contributes to the quality of research and education at UM, and strive to enable this through inclusive policies and innovative projects led by teams of staff and students. We encourage you to apply for this position.


Maastricht University (UM)


  • PhD
  • Health
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 975


Maastricht University (UM)

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P. Debyelaan 25, 6229HX, Maastricht

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