How can we induce long-lasting protective immunity against coronaviruses and influenza?

Respiratory diseases, including influenza and COVID-19 coronavirus, kill large numbers of humans, and animal viruses that can jump to humans (zoonoses) are a serious threat to human health. Although vaccines are available, the viruses escape from antibodies to their surface proteins by mutating. In contrast, it is more difficult for the viruses to escape from cell-mediated immunity against conserved internal virus proteins. The problem we will attack in this project is therefore how to generate and maintain this sort of cell-mediated protective immunity.

Start date

1 October 2022


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

The Pirbright Institute

Funding information

This is a 3.5 year fully funded studentship open to UK nationals. Funding includes a minimum annual stipend of £16.062 plus a cost of living top-up allowance of £2,200 per annum. Pirbright Institute subsidised student housing will be offered. Home rated university tuition fees will be paid. International applicants are welcome to apply and all students are eligible for the full award (stipend and home rated university tuition fees). International students will be liable for tuition fees at the overseas 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).


We have established powerful pig models to study immunity to influenza and coronaviruses and unlike the mouse, pigs are a natural host for the same subtypes of influenza virus as humans, and pig respiratory coronaviruses (PRCV) are very similar to Covid-19. Humans and pigs are very similar in terms of tissue/organ anatomy, physiology, and importantly their immune responses to influenza and coronaviruses. Pigs are also approximately the same size as humans, and hence they represent a much more suitable model than the mouse, acting as a vital stepping-stone in the translation of experimental results into human clinical applications.

It is now clear that local immune responses mediated by lymphocytes that remain in the lungs, called lung tissue-resident memory T and B cells (TRM and BRM), are critical for protective immunity to respiratory pathogens. TRM and BRM are most effectively induced by delivery of vaccines to the lungs but we do not know how to do this to produce powerful and long-lasting local immunity. In this project we shall investigate the generation and maintenance of TRM and BRM induced either by pandemic H1N1pdm09 influenza or PRCV.

This novel project will provide the student with the unique opportunity to investigate the mechanisms of induction of TRM and BRM in a large, natural-host animal model and to establish their role in immunity to influenza and coronaviruses. The student will determine whether the method of immunisation affects the magnitude, character and duration of the TRM and BRM response. This will be a crucial step in the more rational development of novel vaccine strategies for influenza and coronaviruses.

For full project details please visit Postgraduate studentships | The Pirbright Institute

Project supervisors: Dr Elma Tchilian (The Pirbright Institute) - and Prof Christine Rollier (University of Surrey) -

The student will be based primarily at The Pirbright Institute and registered with the University of Surrey. The student will visit the university to meet with their supervisors and undertake training or complete specific project tasks as required. A full range of research and transferrable skills training will be made available to the student at both The Pirbright Institute and the University of Surrey.


Related links

The Pirbright Institute



1. Keep et al. Porcine respiratory coronavirus as a model for acute respiratory coronavirus disease (2022). Frontiers in Immunology (in press)

2. Martini V et al. Simultaneous Aerosol and Intramuscular Immunization with Influenza Vaccine Induces Powerful Protective Local T Cell and Systemic Antibody Immune Responses in Pigs (2021). J Immunol. 206:652-663; doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.2001086

3. Holzer B et al. Protective porcine influenza virus-specific monoclonal antibodies recognize similar haemaggulutinin epitopes as humans (2021). PloS Pathogens 17(3):e1009330.  doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1009330

4. Vatzia et al. Respiratory and intramuscular immunization with ChAdOx2 NPM1-NA induces distinct immune responses in H1N1pdm09 pre-exposed pigs (2021). Frontiers in Immunology,

5. Martini V et al. Distribution of droplets and immune responses after aerosol and intra-nasal delivery of influenza virus to the respiratory tract of pigs (2020). Frontiers in Immunology 11:594470; doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.594470


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.

It is open to UK students. International students are welcome to apply, however international students will be liable for tuition fees at the Overseas rate and must be able to fund the difference between the Home and Overseas tuition fees themselves.

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.

For details of how to apply please visit: Postgraduate studentships | The Pirbright Institute.

To apply applicants must submit: The Pirbright Institute Application Form and a CV. Two references must be sent directly by your referees. The application form and further details can be found on The Pirbright Institute website:

Studentship FAQs

Read our studentship FAQs to find out more about applying and funding.

Application deadline

Contact details

Yvonne Walsh


Telephone: 01483 868230



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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