PhD Studentship: Development of a Differentiation of Infected from Vaccinated Animals (DIVA) diagnostic test for use in conjunction with inactivated louping ill virus vaccine and application to field surveillance

University of Nottingham - Veterinary Medicine & Science

Principal supervisor: Dr Janet Daly
Other supervisors:  Dr Mara Rocchi (Moredun Institute), Dr Kevin Gough (SVMS)

Background:The School of Veterinary Medicine and Science (SVMS) undertakes research on many key aspects of companion animals and livestock health and production. Research at the School is integrated into the University structure with established world class research in biomedical sciences within the other University Schools.  Research undertaken at the School is relevant to both Veterinary Medicine and Science and Comparative and Human Medicine.

Project description:

Louping ill virus (LIV) is a tick-borne virus that is endemic in the Scottish uplands. It causes neurological disease in sheep, which can be fatal. The most effective control measure against LIV is vaccination. Surveillance and vaccine effectiveness studies in the field are hampered by the difficulty in determining whether antibodies detected by the traditional haemagglutination inhibition test are a result of infection or vaccination. Recombinant vaccines that do not express all of the viral proteins allow a diagnostic test to be developed that detects antibodies to proteins only present during natural infection enabling a ‘distinguishing infected from vaccinated animals’ (DIVA) strategy to be employed. However, development of such vaccines is costly and inactivated virus vaccines continue to predominate in livestock vaccination programmes.

The traditional technique of phage display has been revolutionized by combining it with next generation sequencing and bioinformatics analysis. In this project, the next generation phage display approach will be applied to identify peptides recognized by LIV- infected but not vaccinated sheep. These peptides reflect subtle differences in the virus proteins that result from the effect of the chemical treatments used to inactivate the virus for inclusion in the vaccine. The peptides identified will be synthesized and used to develop and validate an ELISA-based assay to detect infection-specific antibodies. This assay will be applied in surveillance studies to evaluate the true prevalence of LIV infection in the field.

The 3 year project is split between two sites, the University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonington campus and the Moredun Institute, Edinburgh. It is anticipated that the majority of the time will be spend at the Nottingham site initially, with the final stages being conducted at the Moredun Institute.

Further information and Application

Applicants should have a minimum of a 2.1 undergraduate degree or a minimum of a 2.2 degree and a master’s degree in biological or veterinary sciences or similar subjects.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to the principal supervisor:

Candidates should apply online include a CV.  Queries regarding the application process should be addressed to Postgraduate Admissions (email:

Start Date: 1st Octoberor as soon as possible thereafter.
Closing date: The position will be filled when a suitable candidate has been identified. Early application is strongly encouraged.
Eligibility for Funding Must be eligible for Home/EU fees. The standard UK/EU postgraduate stipend applies.

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Midlands of England