The eye as a window to the brain: tackling neurodegenerative disorders

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

Project description
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia, affecting 43,8 million people in 2016 and an estimated 130 million by 2050. The pathological changes of AD in the brain occur gradually over 20-30 years before the onset of symptoms and therapies are increasingly aimed at the preclinical stages of the disease. Yet current methods to identify individuals with presymptomatic AD are expensive, invasive and not scalable at a population level. Retinal imaging offers an ideal solution, as the retina is part of the central nervous system and it manifests many of the pathological processes that occur in the brain in AD.

Our consortium brings together leading clinicians and scientists from Leuven and Melbourne with expertise in neuropathology, ophthalmology, imaging and artificial intelligence to validate multimodal retinal imaging biomarkers of AD. The PhD student will aim to establish whether retinal imaging, including hyperspectral retinal imaging, has clinical utility in screening for presymptomatic AD.

In Leuven, they will image a well phenotyped cohort of middle- and older-aged adults at risk of AD. They will also conduct imaging and histopathological studies of AD-model mice to characterize the amyloid load/species that contribute to the hyperspectral imaging signature.

In Melbourne they will have the opportunity to undertake an imaging study as part of the Healthy Brain Project and learn state-of-the-art image analysis methods. This project seeks to transform the clinical management of AD through improved detection of the disease in the preclinical stages in a non-invasive, rapid and cost-effective manner.

The project will be complemented by The University of Melbourne based project and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

Required:

  • Undergraduate/postgraduate degree in medicine, optometry, orthoptics, science, biomedicine, biomedical engineering or related disciplines
  • Evidence of scholarly excellence as evidenced by academic performance, awards, scholarships or bursaries
    High level verbal and written communication skills

Desired:

  • Proficiency in computer programming, with a particular emphasis on R or Python
  • Proficiency in biostatistics/statistical methods
  • Proficiency in mathematics
  • Experience or interest in engineering
  • Prior research experience (laboratory or clinical)
  • Interest in clinical research.

This position is full time. The ideal applicant will be highly motivated and capable of working independently and as part of a dynamic team comprised of clinician-scientists, engineers, data scientists and laboratory researchers. This highly prestigious scholarship will involve periods of research in Melbourne and in Belgium. Accordingly, the candidate needs to be adaptable and adventurous with good interpersonal skills.

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Professor Ingeborg Stalmans (KU Leuven)
Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden (The University of Melbourne)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Dr Lies De Groef (KU Leuven)
Dr Xavier Hadoux (The University of Melbourne)