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PhD student - Hyperspectral retinal imaging as a novel diagnostic biomarker for Alzheimer's disease

This work will be performed in a new research group led by Prof. Lies De Groef in the Animal Physiology and Neurobiology Division of the Biology Department (established October 1, 2021). Our research focuses on the fundamental understanding of mechanisms of neurodegeneration in the central nervous system. “The eye as a window to the brain” is the central theme of our research. We focus on the inter-relatedness of neurobiology and ophthalmology and exploit this cross-over of disciplines to enrich fundamental research into central nervous system function. A greater understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms governing brain function are key to unlock novel therapeutic strategies for central nervous system diseases – which represent a rising burden –, and the visual system offers unique possibilities to tackle these research questions. Prof. De Groef and her team have more than 10 years of experience/expertise in neurodegeneration and -inflammation research in the visual system, in vivo retinal imaging, electrophysiology and visual behavior testing, and disease mechanisms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. You will work in close collaboration with our partners from KU Leuven and UZ Leuven, and will be co-supervised by Prof. Ingeborg Stalmans.


Interested applicants should send a detailed curriculum vitae, a letter of motivation and the contact information of 2 references via the online application tool. Only applications via the online application tool will be considered.For additional questions, please contact lies.degroef@kuleuven.be.
You can apply for this job no later than July 31, 2022 via the online application toolKU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at diversiteit.HR@kuleuven.be.




Apply before: 31/07/2022

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The Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research field has increasingly focused on the identification, development and validation of new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for AD. This endeavour is stimulated by the fact that the pathological changes of AD in the brain occur gradually over 20-30 years before the onset of symptoms. Therapies to delay or prevent AD are therefore increasingly aimed at these preclinical stages of the disease. However, this requires early diagnosis of AD. Current methods to identify individuals with presymptomatic AD, such as positron emission tomography and cerebrospinal fluid analysis are expensive, invasive and not scalable at a population level. Accordingly, there is an urgent need for low cost, minimally invasive and widely available screening and diagnostic tests. Retinal imaging offers the ideal solution.

The retina is an integral part of the central nervous system and many of the characteristic pathological processes that occur in the AD brain are also found in the retina. With the availability of non-invasive, high-resolution imaging techniques, it offers “a window to the brain”. Together with two other research groups, we have delivered pioneering evidence for the use of hyperspectral retinal imaging (HSRI) to detect retinal amyloid burden and thereby identify people at risk of AD. We now seek to assess whether HSRI could be used as a tool for AD screening. Key outstanding questions that we want to address in this research project are related to the specificity of the technique, and include: (1) What is the molecular basis of the HSRI signal of AD? (2) Can HSRI be used to distinguish AD from other dementias?

You will perform preclinical research, aiming to advance our understanding of the neuropathological changes that occur in the AD retina and to determine the molecular basis of the HSRI signal. Thereto, we will perform HSRI of synthetic amyloid conformational forms, and in cellular and mouse models of proteinopathies (amyloid, Tau, alpha-synuclein) and correlate these data will molecular assays of protein oligomerisation/aggregation. All research runs within the ‘Vision Core Leuven’, a preclinical animal platform which brings together cutting-edge technologies within the field of ocular imaging, electrophysiology and visual function testing in laboratory animals (https://www.visioncore.be). Furthermore, we employ state-of-the-art techniques for detailed morphological phenotyping, including confocal/multiphoton/light-sheet microscopy, optical clearing and time-lapse imaging, and longitudinal and post-mortem morphometrical analyses to follow inflammatory and degenerative processes.

  • You have a master degree in Biology, Biochemistry, Bio-engineering, Biophysics, Biomedical Sciences or equivalent.
  • Graduation with distinction (or more).
  • Motivation and commitment for pursuing a PhD in the field of neurobiology – ophthalmology.
  • Experience in neuroscience and/or cell biology research, animal experimentation, molecular biology and/or microscopy skills is a plus.
  • Very good knowledge of English, both orally and written.
  • Other required competences: proactive, communicative, accurate, able to work independently and in team, good organization and coordination skills, eager to learn.
  • A dynamic environment with opportunities for further development and training, and collaboration with many other research groups and core facilities in KU Leuven and abroad.
  • The opportunity to be part of a dynamic team and provide a meaningful contribution to neuroscience research applicable to neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Start date to be determined (possible from September 1st, 2022)

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