We seek a PhD candidate to join our interdisciplinary team working on therapies for ophthalmic diseases and conditions. The overall aim of this project is to develop a new cell source to restore vision in patients with corneal damage.
The cornea – our clear window to the world – undergoes constant renewal and regeneration to maintain a clear, uniform surface. Epithelial cells are continuously shed from the cornea, requiring a steady supply of cells from a small population of limbal stem cells (LSCs), located at the edge of the cornea. In case of minor injury, the inherent regenerative capacity of LSCs can effectively repair the epithelium. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. For example, if the limbus or LSCs are damaged following severe injury or congenital deficiency, the complete or partial loss of LSCs causes intense pain and chronic inflammation, allowing the opaque conjunctiva to grow over the cornea, resulting in blindness in the most severe cases.
Globally, ten million individuals suffer from bilateral visual impairment or blindness due to a corneal pathology. The societal burden is substantial given its impact on employment, quality of life and related caretaking requirements. For both the individual patients and the wider society, there is an urgent need to develop therapies to regenerate the cornea and prevent blindness.
Our team was recently awarded a ZonMw (Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development) Open Competition grant to develop a new therapy to regenerate the corneal epithelium based on the transdifferentiation of other epithelial cells from the patient. This project is a collaboration with the laboratory of Dr Jo Zhou (Radboud UMC, Nijmegen), whose team will lead the mapping of the molecular blueprint for transdifferentiation. The successful candidate will work on a strategy to induce and validate successful transdifferentiation to LSC-like cells.
Candidates should possess a master’s degree in a relevant field (e.g., in the biomedical sciences) 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 the following skills and/or interests:
- Molecular biology
- (Stem) cell biology
- Cell therapy
- Regenerative medicine
We are looking for creative thinkers who are prepared to take on highly challenging aims. The project will be very interdisciplinary and will suit an ambitious candidate who likes a fast-paced environment. Excellent knowledge of scientific English for speaking, reading, and writing are required. Knowledge of Dutch is not required.
CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT
Fixed-term contract: 4 years.
It is a 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.
Your salary would be € 2.434,- gross per month in the first year up to € 3.111,- gross per month in the fourth year according to the PhD-candidate salary scale. An 8% holiday and an 8.3% year-end allowance is also provided. Each year an evaluation will take place.
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 www.maastrichtuniversity.nl > About UM > Working at UM.
The successful candidate will have a cross-disciplinary supervision team comprising Dr Mor Dickman (University Eye Clinic Maastricht) and Dr Vanessa LaPointe (MERLN Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine). They will collaborate closely with the team of Dr Jo Zhou (Radboud UMC, Nijmegen).
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.
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. For more information, visit www.maastrichtuniversity.nl.
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. It is a full-time research degree, with only optional course work.
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 4,700 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.
Candidates can expect to hear from us within two weeks of the deadline for applications. Short video interviews will be scheduled for short-listed candidates. Those proceeding to the second interview round will be invited to attend either an in-person interview or a longer video call, depending on restrictions due to covid-19. Travel costs will be compensated.
For more information, please contact Dr Vanessa LaPointe (firstname.lastname@example.org).