Glial-immune interactions protecting against formation of glioma

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Brain scan showing cancerous growth

This is one of two research projects studying glial-immune interactions. Melbourne is the home institution for this project. To view the KU Leuven-based partner project, click here.

Brain cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers worldwide, with only 1 in 5 diagnosed patients surviving beyond 5 years. Gliomas are the most severe and aggressive forms of brain cancer. Gliomas arise when mutations affect glial cells and neural stem cells in the brain, triggering them to over-proliferate and form tumours. Glial cells are a special type of cell found in the nervous system that support the nerve cells. Glial cells are found throughout the nervous system, and form an important part of the enteric nervous system, which is located within the gut. Remarkably, gliomas in the gut are very rare, and >95% of glial tumours in the bowel are benign. The question arises: why are enteric glial cells protected from developing aggressive cancers?

Based on data from preliminary studies, we hypothesise that glial-immune interactions in the gut play an important role in protecting against glioma formation. To investigate this, we will be using a recently generated mutant mouse model as well as in vitro assays to examine the recruitment of immune cells to the gut, how enteric glia influence immune cell phenotype, and to identify specific factors released by enteric glia that are able to communicate with immune cells.

Project goals

To characterise these glial-immune interactions and identify these factors, by investigating the following objectives:

  • To quantify immune cell infiltration in the gut of our Sox10-PI3K glioma mouse model.
  • To investigate the influence of enteric glia and patient-derived tumour samples on immune cell activation and gene expression.
  • To identify factors released by enteric glial cells using proteomic analysis and examine their influence on immune cells.

Supervision team

The University of Melbourne: Dr Marlene Hao

KU Leuven: Associate Professor Gianluca Matteoli

*Click on the researcher's name above to learn more about their publication and grant successes.

Who we are looking for

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • Demonstrated experience in the field of biomedical/immunology sciences.
  • Demonstrated experience with scientific computation.
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date).
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem-solving abilities.

Further details

The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments.

Dr Marlene Hao’s contribution is through her expertise in the enteric nervous system and enteric glial cells and techniques such as gut dissection and dissociation, isolation of specific cell populations including enteric glia, live calcium imaging, RNA isolation, gene expression analysis, as well as immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy. Associate Professor Gianluca Matteoli will contribute his expertise in all aspects of mucosal immunology and enteric neuroscience as well as advanced single cell RNA techniques and flow cytometry.

This PhD project will be based at the University of Melbourne with a minimum 12-month stay at KU Leuven.

The candidate will be enrolled in the PhD program at the Department of Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Melbourne and in the PhD program at the Department of Chronic Disease, Metabolism and Ageing at KU Leuven.

To apply for this joint PhD opportunity, and to view the entry requirements, visit How to apply.

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Apply for a joint PhD with the Toronto-Melbourne Research Training Group.

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