Understanding the Host-Pathogen interaction of Hepatitis E virus in pigs

Study the infection cycle of HEV in pigs with a focus on the interaction of HEV replication and the composition of the microbiome and the effect of both on the pig liver. 

Start date

1 April 2024


3 years

Application deadline

Funding information

UKRI standard stipend - £18,622 for 2023-24. 


Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is the causative agent of hepatitis E, a human liver disease with worldwide occurrence. Of particular interest is HEV genotype 3 (HEV-3) which is zoonotic, infecting a diverse range of hosts, including pigs. In contrast to the human infection, the infection of pigs with HEV remains always subclinical. However, the level of HEV replication post-infection is highly variable between pigs, the reasons for which are unclear, as is the infection cycle within pigs. Investigations in other human viral infections have revealed differences in gut microbiota to be associated with levels of immunity and viral load. No comparative data are available for HEV in pigs, nor is there a vaccine available. 

The main objective of the project is to study the infection cycle of HEV in pigs with a focus on the interaction of HEV replication and the composition of the microbiome and the effect of both on the pig liver. The hypothesis of the project is that the microbiome influences the outcome of HEV infections in pigs. To that extend the approaches to investigate the above concept are as follows: 

  1. Establish a porcine HEV liver slice model to assess viral replication cycles.
  2. Analyse and compare the microbiome from HEV-positive and negative pigs. The project has access to pig samples from previous and ongoing experimental and field studies. We can accordingly carry out a direct comparison of the microbiome composition. 
  3. Analysis of the impact of probiotics and specific probiotic metabolites on HEV replication.

The project will make use of gut and liver slice models established. In a first part, the infection of these with HEV will be studied. Subsequently selected probiotic bacteria will be used in co-culture with these tissue models to study the impact of probiotics on HEV replication. In an extension of the above we will use probiotic metabolites that have been demonstrated to modulate host physiology to study their impact on HEV replication. The project can here extend the studies to also using liver cell lines.

Eligibility criteria

You will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for our Veterinary Medince and Science PhD programme

In addition, you will have to be resident in the UK for at least two, ideally 3 years (at the time of application) to meet the requirement for additional security clearances required to carry out work as part of this project.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Veterinary Medince and Science PhD programme page. In place of a research proposal you should upload a document stating the title of the project that you wish to apply for and the name of the relevant supervisor.

Veterinary Medince and Science PhD

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Application deadline

Contact details

Falko Steinbach
01 VSM 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 682315
E-mail: f.steinbach@surrey.ac.uk

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