The DISCo PhD program, focused on the implementation of new preventive strategies against intestinal pathogenic E. coli, involves several disciplines: bioinformatics, microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, immunology and cellular biology. An important aspect is its inter-disciplinary approach. Indeed, academic skills (INRA) in proteomic, microbial molecular biology and immunology will be integrated into the advanced technological platforms and high-throughput capacities of an established vaccine company (GSKVACSRL), with the common objective of advancing the scientific knowledge in the field of pathogenic E. coli-host cell interaction and, more practically, of identifying the best candidate antigens for an anti-intestinal pathogenic E. coli vaccine.

The  DISCo programme consists of four PhD projects which cover different aspects of vaccine development, ranging from antigen discovery based on genomic and functional studies (Projects 1 and 2) to immunological aspects of the host response to immunization, including the modulation of the gut microbiota after immunization (Project 3) and formulation of selected antigens with immune modulator molecules developed by GSKVACSRL (Project 4). The four projects, assigned to the selected four Early Stage Researchers (ESR), have been grouped in two major Work Packages detailed in the scheme below:


ESR1 and ESR3 start at GSKVACSRL (for 19 months that include 1 month at UNIROMA3) and then move to INRA for 17 months (including 3 months at UDA for ESR1 and 1 month at UDA for ESR3).

ESR2 and ESR4 start at INRA (for 17 months, including 2 months at UDA for ESR2) and then move to GSKVACSRL for 19 months (including 1 month at UNIROMA3).

ESR1: Maricarmen Rojas-López

Identification of cross-protective antigens to develop a vaccine against intestinal pathogenic E. coli strains

ESR2: Ricardo Jorge Rego Monteiro

Identification of novel adhesins in pathogenic E. coli strains as a strategy for preventing intestinal colonization

ESR3: Ilham Naili

In vivo characterization of the immune response towards pathogenic E. coli antigens and modulation of the intestinal microbiota

ESR4: Giulia Sagrestani

Immunological characterization of novel adjuvants for generation of vaccines against pathogenic E. coli strains


Through the DISCo training plan, the fellows will acquire an advanced academic title such as the PhD, with key features typical of an industrial training. At the end of DISCo the fellows will have been trained in basic research skills with an academic mind-set that typically fosters creativity and curiosity; but this will be integrated with a highly specialised and transferable skills training performed in a typical industrial setting, allowing the fellows to develop a mind-set that privileges entrepreneurial and managerial skills fundamental in order to obtain concrete and marketable results. The benefits of such training at the border of academy and industry will result in broader competences that will definitely increase future employability of the trainees of this programme compared to traditional PhD training.


This project has received funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions)
of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013/ under REA grant agreement n° 607611