Impact of environmental nitrogen deposition on allergic disease burden. (ref. BAP-2023-313)





The Allergy and Clinical Immunology Research Group, is looking for a talented PhD candidate to study a) the impact of environmental nitrogen deposition on grass pollen allergenicity and b) the mechanisms underlying rare and severe IgE-mediated allergies. The Allergy and Clinical Immunology Research Group is part of the department of microbiology, immunology and transplantation, faculty of medicine, KU Leuven, Belgium. We are active on several lines of research (drug, food, and hymenoptera venom allergy research, but also ILC, mucosal barrier dysfunction, and inborn errors of immunity – see references related to the PI of the project below) and accommodates in total 2 postdocs, 10 PhD students, 3 senior technicians, 1 part-time data manager, supervised by 5 principal investigators (clinician-researchers). The lab combines hard work and a productive output with a familial atmosphere. The lab is fully equipped for the current project and is embedded next to the University hospital, in close proximity of our collaborating groups. Most of the research will be carried out at the lab of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Depending on the background and skills, the candidate can be involved in patient recruitment (at the University Hospitals Leuven) or field sample gathering (in collaboration with Biology KU Leuven), both are not compulsory.

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  • The current rise in prevalence of allergies to aeroallergens as well as the rise in anaphylaxis to various foods and drugs are incompletely understood and attributed to interactions between environmental changes such as air pollution, climate warming, and lifestyle changes. One unexplored potential driver of this increasing burden is nitrogen deposition. Increased nitrogen deposition leads to eutrophication of our flora. 

  • For the first part of this project, we hypothesize that increased nitrogen deposition leads to increased allergenicity of pollen and hence more frequent and severe sensitization to pollen (this project will focus on grass pollen). We will evaluate in vitro the reactivity of patient (and healthy control) sera to pollen extracts grown in different (experimental or natural)environments adjusting for potential confounders. Using our approach we will be able to go beyond association and demonstrate causality (or not) to illustrate the impact of environmental nitrogen deposition on allergic disease burden. This project is part of the large ongoing interdisciplinary Belspo BRAIN-be NITROPOLproject that aims to understand how nitrogen deposition affects allergy burden (encompassing scientists from Sciensano, KU Leuven, UNamur and UCLouvain).

  • For the second part, you will study the mechanisms behind rare and severe IgE-mediated allergies(leading to anaphylaxis), with an emphasis on novel (hitherto unreported)causes and underlying mechanism. This work is embedded in a prospective (observational) clinical trial on anaphylaxis at the University Hospitals Leuven (see references below).

  • For the first part, you will (help to) collect field samples grown under different nitrogen deposition conditions (both environmental and experimental setup). You will generate extracts, validate reproducibility and evaluate their allergenicity ex vivo on samples obtained from patients and healthy controls. The techniques involved include immunoblotting,biotin-streptavidin-based specific IgE determination and basophil activation testing. Patient characterization will be performed via questionnaires, and routine allergy workup (in which you can be involved, not compulsory).

  •  For the second part, you will evaluate the mechanisms of rare and severe causes of IgE-mediated allergies and elaborate on different hypotheses to explain an increased reactivity allergens in a subset of patients.

  • You will be able to take up additional subtopics related to your project, depending on the progress of your work, personal initiatives and takeup a leading role.

  • The project requires careful planning, coordination and dedication. You will disseminate your results on national and international conferences, publish scientific reports and prepare and defend a doctoral thesis manuscript.

  • Master in bio-medical, medical sciences, bioscience engineering, biology

  • Graduation with distinction (or more)

  •  Motivation and commitment to pursuing a PhD in allergy

  • Experience with in vitro work (Western blotting, flow cytometry, cell culture) is recommended

! Social skills to enable working in a dynamic environment, and to take up a leading role

! Languages: excellent knowledge of English, both orally and written.

! Generic competences: proactive, communicative, accurate, able to work independently and in team, setting up and maintaining networks, good organization and coordination skills


For more information please contact Prof. Dr. Rik Schrijvers, tel.: +3216342985, mail: or Mrs. Liesbeth Gilissen, tel.: +32 16 71 00 84, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than July 07, 2023, via the online application tool.

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