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Identifying immune determinants of clinical response to ustekinumab in psoriasis

To start

A 3 year PhD studentship

Basic & Medical Biosciences

Dr Paola Di Meglio
Professor Jonathan Barker

This studentship is fully funded by the Psoriasis Association


Project summary
Biological drugs have revolutionized the treatment of psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin disease that affects up to 1 million people in the UK, and has a significant negative impact on patient quality of life. Nevertheless, these expensive drugs (costing in excess of £10,000 per annum per patient), do not work in every individual, with up to 30% of patients receiving a biologic drug not experiencing a significant improvement of their psoriasis. As there are currently different types of biologics, each blocking a different inflammatory mediator, patients often switch from one drug to another until the best treatment is identified. This process can be very frustrating for the patients, and poses a considerable economic burden to the NHS. Therefore, there is an urgent unmet clinical need to identify biomarkers predictive of response which can be used for patient stratification.

The hypothesis underlying this project, is that the clinical response to ustekinumab may be predicted by studying the immune cells responding to the molecule neutralized by the drug. Therefore, we will use peripheral blood mononuclear cell of deeply-phenotyped patients, collected before and during treatment with the biologic anti IL-12/23 ustekinumab, and a range of cutting-edge technologies, including multi parameter flow cytometry and imaging flow cytometry, to address the following aims:
i) identifying the cellular target of ustekinumab;
ii) evaluating IL-23-responsive immune cells as potential biomarkers predictive of clinical response to ustekinumab;
iii) establishing and validating a parsimonious and scalable assay to predict responsiveness to ustekinumab.

The PhD student will be based at St John’s Institute of Dermatology, which provides an ideal environment for research and training, with an established network of immunologists, cell biologists, academic dermatologists, and a growing community of data analysists.

The student recruited to this project will have two supervisors with complimentary expertise in immunology and clinical dermatology and be fully embedded into KCL post-graduate training programme which runs both specialised courses very relevant to this project as well as transferable skills.

Academic requirement
Minimum Upper Second (above 60%) BSc degree in a biomedical subject e.g. Biomedical Sciences or an MSc in relevant area.

English Language requirements
If English is not your first language you will be required to provide evidence that you meet the minimum English requirements of the Faculty [Band D] as prescribed by the university’s English Language requirements. If you are unable to provide this confirmation before applying any offer you are made would be conditional upon you meeting these requirements prior to enrolment and no later than the 30 August 2019. You can contact the King’s Admissions Team for further information

All students are regularly notified about skills development opportunities through a monthly Postgraduate Research Newsletter. Participation in the annual Postgraduate Research Symposium is compulsory for all students and provides an opportunity to improve science communication and presentation skills. All postgraduate students in the School of Basic and Medical Biosciences present their research as part of departmental seminar programmes as well as to their research groups. Opportunities are available for postgraduate students to present their work at national and international scientific meetings. Our postgraduate students also assist with teaching of undergraduates as demonstrators in practical classes or leading tutorials. 

How to apply
Please apply online at quoting the reference number 2019/BMBS/01.

1. On the Choose a programme page:
a. Type ‘Basic and Medical Bioscience Research’
b. Select from the drop down menu ‘Basic and Medical Biosciences Research MPhil/PhD (Full-time)’
NB: your application cannot be considered if submitted under the incorrect programme

2. Tick the 01 October start date

In your application you will be asked to include:
• Academic Transcripts – where applicable, academic transcripts must be submitted with the online admissions application
• Details of your qualifications (you will need to attach copies)
• Details of previous employment
• A personal statement describing your interests and why you wish to apply for this project. Please include this as an attachment uploaded under 'other'.
• Academic References – all admissions applications require two supporting references.If the applicant is relying on his/her referees to submit references directly to the College after he/she has submitted his/her admissions application, then the applicant must ensure that their chosen referees are made aware of the funding deadline.

Funding section:
Please tick box 5 and include the following reference: 2019/BMBS/01. Please note there is no need to complete the Research Proposal section in your application as the project has already been set. 


Closing date

Interview date
Interviews will be held on Friday 28 June 2019

Contact information for enquiries
It is highly recommended to informally approach Dr Paola Di Meglio before making an application. For administrative and application process enquiries please contact Helen Rudkin.



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