B cell responses in protection against African swine fever virus studentship

African swine fever is a viral disease of domestic pigs and wild boar that has resulted in the deaths of millions of animals across Europe and Asia since its introduction into Georgia in 2007. The virus is now endemic in 4 continents of the world and presents a constant threat to farmers as well as to wild populations of animals in South East Asia and Oceania. An effective and affordable vaccine would make a significant contribution to our ability to control the disease and improve animal welfare.

Start date
1 October 2021
3.5 years
Application deadline
Funding source
The Pirbright Institute
Funding information

This is a 3.5 year fully funded studentship. Funding includes a minimum annual stipend of £15,609 plus a cost of living top-up allowance of £2,200 per annum. Home rated university tuition fees will be paid. EU and international applicants are welcome to apply and all students are eligible for the full award (stipend and home rated university tuition fees).  From 1st August 2021, EU and International students will be liable for tuition fees at the international rate and must be able to fund the difference between “Home” and “Overseas” tuition fees themselves. For Home student eligibility guidelines, please refer to the UKRI Full Eligibility Criteria (Annex One).


African swine fever vaccine development is hindered due to the complexity of the virus and a lack of understanding of the protective immune response. Subunit vaccines induce antibody responses that recognise virally infected cells, but antibody function as well as the importance of the individual components of the vaccine is unknown. Antibodies capable of neutralisation, infection inhibition and antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity have been described in pigs immunised with live attenuated viruses therefore the initial focus of the project will be to refine assays to study these effector functions and then test if our vaccine induces them. A major research goal of the group is to understand the contribution of the response to individual viral proteins to the overall protective immune response. Pairing the project with the Livestock Antibody Hub will enable the student to take advantage of cutting-edge techniques and their associated reagents, as well as world class expertise, for the study of B-cells and antibodies in pigs domesticated animals. The project will develop along the following themes.

  1. Functional antibody responses against whole ASFV and ASFV infected cells.
  2. Target-function correlation of ASFV specific antibody responses.
  3. Comparative analysis of the antibody response between live attenuated and subunit vaccines.

As the project develops the student may choose to focus on specific effector functions or to focus on the mechanism by which these activities act on virus or infected cells, alternatively they be more interested in the specific viral proteins or domains within those proteins that are the targets of these activities. We have observed enhancement of disease in one groups of pigs, therefore as well as looking at protective immunity there may also be the opportunity to study antibody dependent enhancement in disease. The pig has been used extensively at the Pirbright Institute as a model to study human disease and therefore the techniques and knowledge the student will develop during their PhD will have broad applicability.

Supervisors:  Dr Chris Netherton who has expertise in ASF vaccinology and immunology; Prof Simon Graham who leads the Livestock Antibody Hub work programme that aims to link Fc and Fc-receptor function in livestock species and has developed many of the techniques to study porcine B-cell immunology. University supervision will be provided by Prof Nicolas Locker.

Related links
The Pirbright Institute

Eligibility criteria

This studentship is open to science graduates with, or who anticipate obtaining, at least a 2:1 or equivalent, in a relevant biological subject in their undergraduate degree, or a Masters degree, subject to university regulations. Other first degrees, e.g. veterinary science, will be considered. You should be looking for a challenging, interdisciplinary research training environment and have an active interest in the control of infectious diseases.

UK students.  EU and international students are welcome to apply, however from 1st August 2021, EU and International students will be liable for tuition fees at the international rate and must be able to fund the difference between “Home” and “Overseas” tuition fees themselves.

IELTS requirements: Students without English as a first language must provide evidence that they meet the English language requirement, e.g. with an IELTS score of 7.0, with no lower than 7.0 in listening/reading and no lower than 6.5 in speaking/writing.

How to apply

Applications for this studentship must be made to The Pirbright Institute, not to the University of Surrey.

The application form and further details can be found on Pirbright Institute website.

To apply you must submit: 

  • The Pirbright Institute Application Form and a CV. 
  • Two references must be sent directly by your referees.


Application deadline

Contact details

Yvonne Walsh


01483 868230

African Swine Fever Vaccinology

The Pirbright Institute:

The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. We receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and work to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience. The Institute employs around 350 staff, research students and visiting scientists, and is based in Pirbright, Surrey, where investment by BBSRC has resulted in a redevelopment of the site and the construction of a high level containment facility – the BBSRC National Virology Centre: The Plowright Building and a SAPO level two facility, The Jenner Building. 


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