PhD Position in Defects in Long-Distance Neuronal Wiring in the Large Intestine and in Hirschsprung’s Disease

Catholic University of Leuven Laboratory of Enteric NeuroScience


The Laboratory of Enteric NeuroScience (LENS) University of Leuven, Belgium is currently hiring: PhD student in Enteric Neurophysiology This PhD position is part of a joint PhD programme with the University of Melbourne (UoM, Australia) that includes a one year exchange with UoM. For more information:


The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a complex organ that plays essential roles in the propulsion of food and waste products, nutrient and energy uptake, as well as host defense. The enteric nervous system (ENS), a meshed network of neurons and glia, controls most of these functions. During development, progenitor cells migrate down the gut and colonize the entire intestinal tube to form the ENS. However, in 1 out of 5000 live births, these progenitors do not reach the terminal end, causing the debilitating Hirschsprung’s disease, a condition in which innervation is absent from short or longer segments of large intestine. The underlying reasons are still largely unknown. Apart from this severe disorder, also subtler ENS defects can cause gut malfunction and discomfort. This is not surprising, as progenitors have the daunting task to travel long distances and bridge important junctions (esophagus to stomach, pylorus to the duodenum or distal ileum to colon).

While the UoM based researcher will focus on the upper GI tract (connection between esophagus and stomach), the KUL researcher will investigate the ileo-colonic connection. We will investigate how long-distance connections in the ENS operate and study how transplanted stem cells can repair specific lesions in the mouse ENS. Last, we will use biopsies and resection specimen from Hirschsprung’s patients to study how cellular environment affects hosting transplanted induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) derived precursors.

Imaging techniques have the important advantage that activity in entire cellular networks can be visualized simultaneously. With the advent of genetically encoded optical tools, a number of older microscopy techniques have regained importance as the contrast does not have to be generated by the optical approach but arises from the expression system itself. In combination with advanced (e.g. 2-photon) microscopy, it is possible to leave tissues intact and study cellular activity in situ, even at high spatiotemporal resolution. 

Key papers by LENS related to this subject: 





doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2017.151


Profile and requirements:

  • You received basic or advanced training in (neuro)physiology or gastroenterology, and have a keen interest in technological approaches
  • You are a strong team player and motivated to become part of a multidisciplinary research group.
  • You communicate well in English and are able to writing a scientific text in English
  • You are passionate about how neurons and cellular systems interact to control organ function.
  • You are interested to understand and help solve the debilitating Hirschsprung's disease
  • Experience with microscopic or electrophysiology techniques is an asset
  • You are willing to move to and work in Melbourne, Australia for one year as part of the KUL-UoM exchange programme


  • You hold a master’s degree in optics/physics/technology or in the domain of life sciences (biotechnology, biology, biochemistry; bio-engineering (bio)medical sciences).
  • You have a good understanding of (neuro)biology
  • You have a keen interest in (optical) microscopy
  • You have a critical scientific and quantitative attitude.


We offer:

  • A position as a full-time (100%) PhD researcher on an annual contract basis with the possibility of renewal (max. 4 years).
  • A dynamic research environment with access to multiple advanced imaging systems (confocal, multiphoton, intravital, super-resolution) set in a vast neuroscience community.
  • A team with experience in GI physiology, cell culture, stem cell work, optical activity measurements and manipulation.
  • Salary scales: a PhD stipend according to the university regulations is available.
  • Starting date: summer 2021 


Living in Leuven:

More information about the programme:

KU Leuven promoters: profs. P. Vanden Berghe and M. Miserez

UoM promoters: Drs. L. Stamp and M. Hao


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Pieter Vanden Berghe,  mail: pieter.vandenberghe{at}

You can apply for this job no later than May 15, 2021 via the
KU 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
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: May 15, 2021
  • Tags: Ontwikkeling en Regeneratie

In your application, please refer to


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