Funded PhD Opportunity The role of exosomes in vivo in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


This project will improve our understanding of ALS physiopathology and open new routes toward therapies. The student will be part of a dynamic team that collaborates with an international network (London, Washington DC, Montpellier, Paris).

Rationale: Studies in animal models and ALS patients show that motor neuron degeneration starts at the neuromuscular junction and that post-synaptic muscle changes may play an active role1,2. This axonopathy could be due to the secretion of toxic elements from the muscle. In our lab, we have already shown that ALS muscle cells release toxic exosomes. The purpose of the current project is to explore the in vivo capacity of the muscle exosomes to be transmitted to motor neurons.

Aim1 - Retrograde transport of murine exosomes in vivo: We will express exosomes tagged with a fluorescent marker in murine muscle and track them in vivo. At 5, 10, and 20 days post-injection, the muscles, sciatic nerves and central nervous system will be harvested for immunostaining. This experiment will allow us to determine the speed of diffusion of muscle exosomes in vivo.

Aim2 - Tracking ALS exosomes in vivo: We will track ALS muscle exosomes in vivo and determine whether they preserve their toxic properties.

Aim2a: Exosomal suspensions extracted from muscle cells of ALS patients and healthy subjects will be injected into muscles of immunodeficient mice. Similarly to aim1, various tissues will be harvested post-injection for immunostaining. This experiment will allow us to determine whether ALS muscle exosomes induce motor neuron death in vivo.

Aim2b: The sciatic nerves of mice of several ALS murine models will be harvested at pre-symptomatic ages and tested for muscle exosome markers. This experiment will allow us to determine whether ALS murine models are good models to study the retrograde transport of muscle exosomes. Aim3 - Correcting the toxicity of ALS exosomes in vivo: For this purpose, we will knockdown the expression of mutated SOD1 or FUS or TDP43 in vitro using an siRNA strategy. We will then extract the exosomes from these cells and inject them in vivo as described in Aim2a, to determine whether their toxic effect is abolished. This experiment will be a proof of concept to demonstrate whether targeting the secretion of toxic elements through exosomes could be a good therapeutic strategy.

Skills required: The successful candidate should have some familiarity with technical skills such as immunostaining and cell culture, should have good organizational and planning skills, a rigorous and methodical approach to lab-work, be capable of both independent and team work, and have good skills in writing and presenting data. Experience of the following would be advantageous: PCR and RT-qPCR, and RNA extractions.


1.Fischer, L. R. et al. Exp. Neurol. 185, 232–40 (2004).

2.Tallon, C., Russell, K. A., Sakhalkar, S., Andrapallayal, N. & Farah, M. H. Neuroscience 312, 179–89 (2016).

3. Pradat, P.-F., Kabashi, E. & Desnuelle, C. Curr. Opin. Neurol. 28, 455–61 (2015).

4.  Duguez, S. et al. Cell. Mol. Life Sci. (2013).

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

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Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe

Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
6, 7 and 8 March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Dr Stephanie Duguez

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #238129 when applying for this PhD opportunity