KU Leuven

The role of calcium in trophoblast differentiation

2024-05-31 (Europe/Brussels)
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Our laboratory is a young and vibrant research group embedded in the Department of Development and Regeneration, focusing on calcium signalling during reproduction, and more specifically placental development. The placenta arbitrates developmental outcome; embryogenesis cannot progress without a functional placenta. Moreover, size at birth, and thus placental transport capacity, is critical in determining life expectancy as it affects mortality and morbidity in neonates and adults. Understanding placental pathologies, however, represents a clinical conundrum as the molecular requirements that underpin normal placentation are poorly understood. This research has the ambition to shed light onto placental development in mice and humans, with an unconventional view set on the regulatory role of calcium.

The research group has a strong and long-standing connection with the UZ Leuven hospital and has a strong network with other departments of the university and abroad, which warrants innovative and high-quality research. Our group is based on transparency, communication and integrity to promote a healthy research culture.


The nutrient-supplying function of the placenta is attributed to the formation of an extensively branched villous structure, failure of which is associated with poor fetal outcome. We have gained strong evidence that calcium is involved in signalling pathways that are imperative for normal placental development and thus fetal outcomes. This PhD project has the ambition to unravel how calcium ions can modulate trophoblast differentiation and thereby orchestrate branching morphogenesis. 

The novelty of this work lies in the use of the recently established microCT imaging, conditional gene manipulations in mouse models, live cell imaging of calcium in trophoblast cells and the application of CRISPR/Cas9 – mediated gene targeting in mouse and human trophoblast stem cells. These techniques will be complemented by state-of-the art techniques including single-nucleus transcriptome analysis, functional assays on human trophoblast stem cells and trophoblast organoids.

This PhD research assumes a unique, and currently understudied, perspective in the investigation of placental development by focusing on the role of calcium in trophoblast differentiation, and holds great potential for an alternative approach of treating or screening pregnancy complications, such as recurrent miscarriage or fetal growth retardation.


We are looking for an enthusiastic, critical, creative and highly motivated candidate with a Master degree in a relevant discipline (biomedical sciences or equivalent). Final-year students who will obtain their Master degree by July 2024 are also strongly encouraged to apply.

  • Ideal candidates should have a genuine interest in molecular calcium signalling and how this is regulated during trophoblast differentiation and placental functioning.
  • You have a solid background on the basics of biomedical research and have a strong ambition to master a diverse repertoire of state-of-the-art technics such as single-cell OMICs, genome engineering, and genetically modified mouse model.
  • Besides excellent organizational and experimental research skills, the candidate should possess excellent interpersonal  and communication skills in English. Strong academic writing skills are a prerequisite.
  • The candidate is expected to be a team-player as he/she will be part of our internationally composed team of post docs, PhD students, and lab tecnicians.
Desired but not required: 
  • Familiarity with R and experience with large-scale data, such as genomics and transcriptomics data
  • Experience in working with laboratory animals
  • Experience in cell culture (stem cells, organoids)


  • A full-time 4-year doctoral position in a young, dynamic and vibrant research group to conduct research towards a PhD at an internationally renowned research university.
  • An attractive salary, including a number of additional advantages such as hospitalisation insurance, eco-vouchers, reimbursement for commuting by public transport.
  • State-of-the-art research techniques.
  • As a partner of the Leuven International Doctoral School of Biomedical Sciences (KU Leuven) you are offered the opportunity to participate in a broad spectrum of activities related to training, education, and career development. The candidate must therefore meet the requirements for enrolment at the Doctoral School Biomedical Sciences.
  • A doctoral scholarship for a period of one year, with the possibility of renewal for a further three-year period after positive evaluations.
  • During the doctoral scholarship, you will be asked to submit and defend an innovative project at the FWO (www.fwo.be) to obtain a personal fellowship. Please check eligibility criteria prior to applying for this position.


For more information, please contact prof. dr. Katrien De Clercq, mail: katrien.declercq@kuleuven.be.

Final start date is to be discussed with applicant. 

An application requires a written solicitation, extended CV, contact information for three references and transcripts of academic records.

Interviews will take place in June. Intended project start date: no later than September 2024.

KU Leuven strives for an inclusive, respectful and socially safe environment. We embrace diversity among individuals and groups as an asset. Open dialogue and differences in perspective are essential for an ambitious research and educational environment. In our commitment to equal opportunity, we recognize the consequences of historical inequalities. We do not accept any form of discrimination based on, but not limited to, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, ethnic or national background, skin colour, religious and philosophical diversity, neurodivergence, employment disability, health, or socioeconomic status. For questions about accessibility or support offered, we are happy to assist you at this email address.

Dettagli del lavoro

The role of calcium in trophoblast differentiation
Datore di lavoro
Oude Markt 13 Lovanio, Belgio
Scadenza candidatura
2024-05-31 23:59 (Europe/Brussels)
2024-05-31 23:59 (CET)
Tipo di lavoro
Salva lavoro

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Informazioni sul datore di lavoro

KU Leuven is an autonomous university. It was founded in 1425. It was born of and has grown within the Catholic tradition.

Visita la pagina del datore di lavoro

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