PhD Position – The role of tick salivary proteins in (auto)immune disease

Hasselt VIB-UHasselt Center for Inflammation Research

27 Nov 2022


VIB-UHasselt Center for Inflammation Research

Markus Kleinewietfeld Lab



We are interested in the effects of tick derived immunomodulatory proteins on the immune balance and their potential in human disease. This is a joint PhD project between VIB/Hasselt University (BE) and Maastricht University (NL).

Our group focuses on the role of specific immune cells in this process, in particular on the interplay of anti-inflammatory CD4+ regulatory T cells and pro-inflammatory CD4+ effector T cells. Here, our major interest lies in the understanding of the processes that lead to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or are related to metabolic- and cardiovascular diseases and cancer  (for overview: Müller et al., Nat Rev Immunol 2019, Arroyo Hornero et al., Front. Immunol. 2020). To study these processes, we use a translational approach, combining the analysis of human samples and the use of experimental model systems by various immunological, microbiological and molecular biology state-of-the-art techniques.

The research in our partner group of Dr. Dijkgraaf focuses on structure-activity relationships of nature-derived proteins and how these proteins can be used as diagnostics or therapeutics of various human diseases (Denisov et al, J Biol Chem 2019, J Biol Chem 2020, Bioconjugate Chem 2020; van den Kerkhof et al, Res Pract Thromb Haemost, 2020).

Project description

To avoid host defense, ticks inject saliva containing numerous bioactive compounds, including immunomodulatory proteins. Taking in account millions of years of evolution acting as a lead optimization process, tick salivary proteins have already achieved optimal stability and selectivity with reduced toxicity and immunogenicity. In this project, tick salivary proteins will be produced by recombinant and chemical production methods. The latter includes solid-phase peptide synthesis and (native) chemical ligation. In addition, we aim to investigate the molecular determinants of tick proteins with its target(s) using NMR techniques. Subsequently their immunomodulatory potential will be investigated in various immunological experimental models and samples of patients with autoimmunity, focussing on CD4+ T cells.

We are looking for a highly motivated PhD student to join our teams. The candidate will be investigating the effect of tick proteins on the immune cell balance and its relation to human disease. The position may also involve oversight/supervision of technicians and/or students. 

Our lab is part of the VIB Center for Inflammation Research (IRC). VIB is a life sciences research institute in Flanders, Belgium. With more than 1400 scientists from over 60 countries, we perform basic research into the molecular foundations of life. Hasselt University belongs to the "Transnational University Limburg" (TUL; UHasselt, Belgium and Maastricht University, Netherlands) and is located in the heart of Europe, with cities such as Brussels, Liège, Aachen (Germany) and Maastricht (Netherlands) in close proximity. 

The department of Biochemistry at Maastricht University is part of the Cardiovascular Research Institute Maastricht (CARIM), one of the largest cardiovascular research institutes in Europe with over 200 researchers, including > 90 PhD students. CARIM is one of the six schools of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML) of Maastricht University and is embedded within the Maastricht University Medical Center+ (Maastricht UMC+).


The ideal candidate has: 

  • a Master degree in a relevant field
  • experience and background in immunological research and techniques
  • experience with recombinant protein production
  • a Felasa certificate or equivalent (hands on experience with mouse models of disease is a plus)
  • is motivated to chemically produce and purify proteins
  • excellent communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills
  • fluency in written and spoken English

How to apply?

  • Motivated candidates are asked to apply online
  • Please include your certificate in your online application

Web Link

VIB values diversity - in backgrounds and in experiences. The institute needs people from all backgrounds and ways of life to help build a thriving scientific environment. VIB is therefore looking for candidates who are not only strong in their own aptitudes but care deeply about supporting each other's growth. VIB's collaborators are people with different strengths, experiences and backgrounds, who share a passion for science that generates impact in science and in society. Diversity not only includes race and gender identity, but also nationality, age, disability status, sexual orientation, religion and many other parts of one’s identity. All of VIB’s employees’ points of view are key to its success, and inclusion is everyone's responsibility.