PhD Position in Lung-On-Chip to Capture Cell Interplay in Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease

Catholic University of Leuven


The multidisciplinary team of BREATHE includes expertise in human airway and pulmonary vascular endothelial cell isolation for long-term cell culture to study mechanistic development and progression of pulmonary diseases and highlight the impact of potential risk factors and medication with a close link to clinical data. These studies are usually coupled to in vivo animal models allowing proving causality of potential harmful factors and investing early events in the course of disease onset.


The PhD project belongs to a research project dealing with the use of lung-on-a-chip as a dynamic tool to capture interplay between airway and vascular cells in their microenvironment. The project is focusing on the time course evolution of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD is triggered by exposure to inhaled harmful environmental agents with cigarette smoking representing the major contributor.The disease is characterized by progressive airflow obstruction and chronic neutrophilic inflammation in the airway lumen, and is complicated by recurrent infectious exacerbations. Despite intensive research, there are still unmet medical needs for this disease affecting 9-10% of the population with a high mortality. Abnormal responses of the airway epithelium to the environmental triggers are believed to contribute to the pathogenesis of COPD and the dysregulation of the complex interactions between the different cell types from the lung airway tissues is likely contributing to these abnormal responses.

In this project, the dynamic response and cross talk between the airway epithelium and underlying microvascular endothelium will be examined when the cells are exposed as in vivo to cyclic stretching reproducing breathing movement, shear stress due to fluid circulation and COPD related triggers (cigarette smoking, bacterial/viral infection). A small airway-on-a-chip approach is used to recapitulate the complex in vivo cellular microenvironment of human airway epithelial and pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells using different models (healthy, early and late diseased) to study cross-talk in early disease and how it evolves with disease progression. The PhD project involves collection and handling of the airway epithelial and pulmonary vascular endothelial cells for the lung-on-chip models, exposing these cells to the different triggers, and performing the data analysis.

Measurements include: 1) Isolation,culture and characterization of the airway epithelial and vascular endothelial cells using (multiplex) immunostaining with immunofluorescence, quantification with a fluorescence microscope; 2) Customization of the different lung-on-chip models by bringing into the chip the appropriate airway epithelium and vascular endothelial cells and exposure of the models to the different triggers; 3) Assessment of cell shape deformation, distortion and alignment, ciliary beat frequency overtime with live cell imaging; 4) Histological staining and (multiplex) immunostaining with immunofluorescence on well differentiated airway epithelium and endothelium, quantification with a microscope; 5) Gene expression profile on cell supernatant using PCR arrays, multiplex ELISA…  


The candidate has a Master degree in Biomedical Sciences, Bio-engineering, Bioscience Engineering, Biology, Medicine, or any related discipline. Any relevant experience in molecular biology, immunostaining,cell isolation and culture, is an advantage.

  • Highly motivated candidate with strong academic track record and interest in working in the context of lung diseases
  • Candidate eligible to apply for a personal PhD grant (FWO aspirant or other funding)
  • Candidate with excellent communication skills in spoken and written English
  • Candidate able to work independently but being also a team player, with an open communication style a problem-solving attitude and critical mind set and proactive and result-driven
  • Candidate with flexibility and open for research training on-site. 

The position will be based at University of Leuven (KU Leuven) campus Gasthuisberg,where the candidates will be enrolled in the Doctorate Program in Biomedical Sciences. 

The position adheres to the European policy of balanced ethnicity, age and gender.Both men and women are encouraged to apply.


We offer you a full-time doctoral fellowship position for one year, which will be extended for another 3 years after positive evaluation. Official starting time is preferably March or April 2021. You will work in a dynamic and stimulating scientific environment together with an enthusiastic team of young researchers at a top-ranked university. As part of your PhD program, you will receive advanced training in a broad range of techniques related to cell culture analysis, live cell imaging, (multiplex) immunostaining and gene profiling. You will have the opportunity to participate to national and international meetings, and to visit other research groups for scientific training or networking. You will enroll the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral School within KU Leuven, Belgium and will receive a competitive salary in accordance with the KU Leuven scales for PhD students.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Ghislaine Gayan-Ramirez, tel.: +32 16 33 01 93, mail: or Mrs. Rozenn Quarck, tel.: +32 16 33 01 89, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than March 07, 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: March 7, 2021
  • Tags: Cellulaire en Moleculaire Geneeskunde

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