PhD Position in Inflammation-based Stratification for Adjunctive Immune Targeting in Major Depressive Disorder

Catholic University of Leuven

This project is situated within the MIND-BODY RESEARCH group (MBR), at the Psychiatry Research Group of the KU Leuven, Belgium. The MBR group has expertise in immuno-psychiatric research and collaborates on this topic both nationally and internationally with other research groups. For the current project there will be both national collaboration within the framework of the INSTA-MD project and internationally through the Moodstratification project. The MBR group is closely linked to the University Psychiatric Center (UPC KU Leuven), facilitating access to patients for clinical studies. The PhD of this project will be directly supervised by Prof. Dr. Stephan Claes, PI of the MBR group and Dr Elfi Vergaelen postdoctoral researcher in the MBR group with expertise in immuno-psychiatry.


This doctoral project will focus on the role of theimmune system in the evolution and treatment of major depression. In 2018, 6%of people over the age of 15 had a depressive disorder in the Flemish Region.In 2019, this was 36 million people per year for Europe, good for 92 billioneuros in annual costs. The WHO estimates that depression will be one of theleading causes of disease burden by 2030. Depression, however, is veryheterogeneous, with an estimate of 33-40% responding poorly or not at all to goldstandard treatment. Innovation in the field of treatment could therefore have amajor impact for this subgroup in reducing these numbers.Immune-mediated depression represents a subtype which  accounts for approximately 30% of depressivedisorders. Patients with this immunosubtype are more likely to have a higherseverity of depression, a lower quality of life and more somatic problems. Nextto that it is accompanied by  a highincidence of treatment resistance.

This PhD project will primarily center around a clinical trial focusing on theimmune-targeted treatment of immune-mediated depression and the importance ofthe inflammatory status in treatment stratification. Two existinganti-inflammatory drugs will be used as adjuvant treatment in patients with adiagnosis of major depression. Both immunological and psychiatric parameterswill be collected to assess the evolution. In addition to the translationalresearch itself, the doctoral student will also support the clinical studywith, among other things, database management and coordination with the othercenters. In addition, the student will also be involved in ongoing studies onimmune-mediated depression and other immune-mediated psychiatric disorders.


We are looking for a candidate with the followingqualifications:

  • Degree in Medicine, Psychology, Biomedical Science or related disciplines.
  • You have an excellent knowledge of English, both spoken and written.
  • You have a basic knowledge of statistics and epidemiology and are willing to learn
  • You have the skills to critically handle clinical research data.
  • You can work independently, but also work well in a team and show sufficientinitiative.
  • You are able to successfully complete a doctoral research under supervision.
  • Experience in one or more of the following areas is desirable:
  •    Clinical skills and patient contact.
  •    Great interest in immunology and psychiatry
  •    Interest in statistics
  • Proficiency in one or more of the following areas is a plus:
  •    Analytical skills and well organized
  •    Strong communication and social skills
  •    Dutch speaking


The successful candidate will be awarded a full-time, 4 year PhD position at KU Leuven.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Stephan Claes, mail:. or dr. Elfi Vergaelen, tel.: +32 16 34 72 75, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than October 17, 2022 via the
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  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: October 17, 2022
  • Tags: Geneeskunde
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