PhD project on modulation of brain cells by breast milk extracellular vesicles (1.0 FTE)

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PhD project on modulation of brain cells by breast milk extracellular vesicles (1.0 FTE)

Job description
Preterm brain injury has severe life-long consequences and new treatments that inhibit inflammatory damage or boost regeneration of the preterm brain are urgently needed. Human milk feeding benefits preterm brain development, but the exact mechanisms are unknown. Milk is a complex body fluid and besides delivering nutrients, milk components play a role in the development of the new-born. One of these bioactive components are cell-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs), which are vehicles for cell-cell communication. Milk EVs are interesting candidates for therapeutic application as they have anti-inflammatory and regenerative capacities and they can travel to the brain.
This PhD position is part of the multidisciplinary ZonMw Open Competition funded project entitled “Breast milk Extracellular Vesicles for Baby Brains (EV4BB): Deciphering and exploiting the anti-inflammatory and regenerative effects on brain cells”. By taking a bench-to-bedside approach, EV4BB aims 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 molecular mechanisms of milk EV communication to neural cells. You will investigate targeting of milk EVs to different neural cell types in vitro (flow cytometry and advanced fluorescent microscopy), assess if and how milk EVs modulate responses of these cells, connect these findings to the bioactive milk EV cargo analyzed by multi-omics approaches (bioinformatics) and design intervention strategies to unravel the molecular mechanism of action. Your fundamental findings will expand our knowledge on the importance of milk for brain development and contributes to the potential use of milk EVs as a treatment strategy for preterm brain injury.

We are looking for an enthusiastic, creative team player with good organizational and communication skills and affinity with working in a multidisciplinary setting at different locations (UMCU and UU), who meets the following criteria:
  • Master’s degree in Biomedical sciences, Neuroscience, Biology or in a related area;
  • Strong interest in cell biology, neuroscience, biochemistry and molecular biology techniques and bioinformatics;
  • You enjoy new scientific concepts and thrive in an international and ambitious research environment;
  • Enthusiasm to bridge fundamental cell biology to translational neuroscience and neonatal neurology;
  • A good command of English, both oral and written.

We consider it an advantage if you bring either of the following: Experience in cell/tissue culture, single cell analysis, molecular biology, advanced fluorescent microscopy, omics-analysis, or programming (e.g. R).


You will be offered a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year.

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions , including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University .

About the organization

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University , the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes . Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.
You will be appointed in the research group of Prof. Wauben (Utrecht University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine , Department of Biomolecular Health Sciences (BHS), Division Cell Biology, Metabolism and Cancer (CMC). BHS consists of almost 200 employees. Within the department we conduct education, research and patient care with a focus on the molecular, cellular and tissue level.  Within the division CMC, we conduct research, among other things, on intercellular communication via EVs and metabolic processes. Within CMC you will be part of a team of PhD students, post-docs, senior researchers and (bio)technicians that are working on fundamental cell biology, EVs, metabolomics, single cell analysis, bio-informatics, advanced microscopy and flow cytometry, to decipher the fundamental aspects of EV-mediated cell-cell communication. The BHS is located at Utrecht Science Park , near the historical city centre of Utrecht.

You will also join the Department for Development Origins of Disease (DDOD) of the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital and the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, both within the University Medical Center Utrecht. The DDOD laboratory is a fully equipped laboratory facility in a thriving research environment and a leading facility in the field of developing regenerative therapies for neonatal brain injury. We closely collaborate with clinicians at the Department of Neonatology, research groups within the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus as well as with the Utrecht Life Science Campus (Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Medicine, Chemistry and Biomedical engineering) and international academic and industrial partners. You will be part of a team of PhD students, post-docs, senior researchers and (bio)technicians that are actively collaborating on projects to develop novel therapeutic strategies to protect and repair the neonatal brain.

Additional information
Would you like to know more about this vacancy, please feel free to contact Marca Wauben (Professor) via .

Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.
Applications need to be sent online via the ‘apply’ button with the following documents:
  • Curriculum vitae, max. 2 pages;
  • Motivational letter, max. 1000 words;
  • Transcript of records (Bachelor and Master);
  • Contact details of 2 referees.

Applicants will be contacted around two weeks after the deadline.
The start date of the PhD project is 1st of June 2023.

The application deadline is
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