PhD Scholarship in Epigenetics in immunosenescence: implications to cancer and infections

This project will systematically map epigenetic changes that promote age-related immune dysfunction, in the context of human vaccination trials, as well as cancer human clinical trials.

Using cancer and vaccine clinical trials, the project will use RNAseq, epigenetics and flowcytometry, as well as classic immunological techniques. 

The value of the Scholarship is equivalent to an RMIT full Scholarship

This Scholarship will be available for 3.5 years.

Applications are now open.

Position will remain open until filled.

Applicants need to have a background in immunology, genetics or bioinformatics. They must have completed a relevant Bachelor’s Degree and Honour’s or Master’s. 

Desirable criteria:

  • Practical experience and conceptual background in cellular immunology.
  • Interest in, and ability to, work in an interdisciplinary setting including immunologists, clinicians and, bioinformaticians and biologists.
  • Experience in tissue culture.

To apply, please submit the following documents to Prof. Magdalena Plenbanski and Dr April Kartikasari via magdalena.plebanski@rmit.edu.au and april.kartikasari@rmit.edu.au.

  • A copy of electronic academic transcripts
  • A CV that includes any publications/awards and the contact details of two referees.

Co-supervised by Dr April Kartikasari - plus for specific sub-projects collaboration with Prof Arnan Mitchel and Dr Cesar Huertas (Micro Nano Research Platform) for downstream Lab-on-a-chip practical biomarker detection at home.

Previously, we and others have observed reduced vaccine efficacy in the elderly as well as increased susceptibility to infections and cancers [1]. While age-related immune dysfunction has been extensively studied, underpinning the molecular changes that drive the age-related functional decline of immune cells has proven difficult. Many studies including ours have shown that epigenetic marks including DNA methylation and histone modifications play a fundamental role in determining cell function and identity. These marks are actively modulated by different conditions including stress, lifestyle, sex and age or vaccination [2-3].

This project will systematically map epigenetic changes that promote age-related immune dysfunction, in the context of human vaccination trials, as well as cancer human clinical trials. Specifically, as part of human clinical trial projects, this study will underpin molecular epigenetic mechanisms of immunosenescence that involved in cancer and suboptimal responses to vaccination in the edlerly, and may provide leads for novel therapeutic strategies.

Aims: This project is designed to understand cellular and molecular epigenetic mechanisms involved in both innate and adaptive immunosenescence that cause the decline of immune function. Specifically, this study will uncover age-dependent alterations in epigenetic marks that cause increased incidence of cancer and infections as a consequence of age, utilizing in vitro models, animal models and human clinical trials available in the lab. 

Hypotheses:

  • Epigenetic mark alterations due to aging promote dysregulation of immune cell function and may contribute to the increased incidence of cancer and infections in old people
  • Identification of the changes of epigenetic marks that contribute to the decline of immune function will provide new means of disease prevention and treatment.

Methods: The laboratory uses world-class big-data omics analysis of immune cells, including RNAseq, genome-wide epigenetics, multicolour flowcytometry, cell sorting, multiplex cytokine analysis, as well as classical immunological techniques, e.g. ELISA, ELISPOT, immunohistology, proliferation and functional immune-cell assays. 

The PhD candidate: The preferred PhD candidate will have done an Honours or Masters in immunology, vaccines, microbiology, bioinformatics, biostatistics, molecular biology or a related discipline. 

References:  [1]. Flanagan KL et al. Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. (2017) 33:577 [2]. Noho-Konteh F et al. Clin Infect Dis. 63 (2016):1213 [3]. Kartikasari et al., EMBO J. 32 (2013): 1393

For further inquiries please contact Distinguished Professor Magdalena Plebanski (magdalena.plebanski@rmit.edu.au) and Dr April Kartikasari (april.kartikasari@rmit.edu.au).

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.