Cancer Research UK PhD Studentships


Now recruiting for 2017-18 entry 
Application Deadline: 26th March 2017

(Interviews to be held on 13th April 2017)

Our Institute has an international reputation for cancer research, with world renowned experts in the field.

As part of our comprehensive training programme, fully funded by Cancer Research UK, we have 1 PhD studentship available for September 2017 entry.

Our training programme aims to develop a cohort of scientists equipped both intellectually and technically to conduct the highest quality research on cancer.

Our research degrees are supplemented by a comprehensive support programme, providing training in a wide range of biomedical laboratory methods and other vital transferable skills.

We are now inviting applications for the following projects:


Real-time tracking of tumour dynamics in pancreatic cancer using circulating tumour DNA

First Supervisor: Professor Claude Chelala

Second Supervisors: Professor Hemant Kocher / Professor Nick Lemoine

Centre for Molecular Oncology

Project Outline:

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is typically diagnosed late, resistant to treatment and currently has 5-year survival rates of ±5% for patients with inoperable tumours. There is demand for improved screening methods, to identify localised tumours early when surgery would be most effective. PDAC displays significant intra-tumoural heterogeneity, and studies investigating clonal evolution and treatment response are lacking. Tissue biopsies are invasive, and unable to capture the spatial and temporal complexity of each tumour. We are using next-generation sequencing (NGS) of germline and serial circulating tumour DNAs(ctDNA) to identify driver mutations, monitor clonal evolution, and develop sensitive and specific biomarkers of disease risk, progression, treatment response, and acquired resistance that could ultimately inform clinical care.

This project will incorporate the use of targeted NGS in tumour, normal and ctDNAs from PDAC patients, to validate novel disease risk genes and variants. Wet-lab methods will be used in conjunction with computational approaches to generate and analyse NGS data, and integrate results with clinical metadata to identify promising candidates for functional follow-up. This will be done using in vitro models and relevant molecular biology techniques, with additional validation in clinical samples using tissues from the Barts Pancreatic Cancer Tissue Bank.

Uncovering the molecular pathways controlling tumour: CAFs crosstalk in RAS-driven lung tumours

First Supervisor: Dr Esther Castellano-Sanchez

Second Supervisor: Dr Martin Knight

Centre for Cancer and Inflammation

Project Outline:

KRAS mutations occur in 30% of lung tumours, are associated with poor prognosis and an exclusion criterion for some treatments. A better understanding of the biology of RAS-driven lung cancer will help design more effective therapies.

Using a KRAS-driven lung cancer mouse model in which RAS binding to its effector PI3-Kinase (PI3K) can be disrupted we found that RAS-PI3K signalling is essential for lung tumour initiation and maintenance. We have strong evidence that blocking RAS-PI3K signalling modulates activity of proteins essential for the extracellular matrix remodelling by cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs), indicating that RAS-PI3K is essential to shape the tumour microenvironment that sustains tumour growth.

The goal of this project is to determine how RAS-PI3K signalling in CAFs modulates their gene expression patterns and ability to remodel the ECM in order to support tumour growth. It also aims to investigate the molecular mechanisms by which RAS-PI3K signalling controls ECM stiffness. Finally, clinical data sets and CAFs obtained from patient samples will be used to validate the clinical significance of our findings.

This project represents a highly novel approach that aims to identify essential signalling networks and mediators of tumour-CAF crosstalk that could be targeted in combination with existing therapies for the treatment of lung cancer.

The role of the chemokine CXCL10 and its CXCR3 receptor in ovarian cancer

First Supervisor: Professor Fran Balkwill

Second Supervisor: Dr Esther Castellano-Sanchez

Centre for Cancer and Inflammation

Project Outline:

Chemokines and their receptors control movement of cells into and out of the tumour microenvironment. Recently we found that one particular chemokine, CXCL10, was present at high levels in ovarian cancer metastases and that its receptor CXCR3 was present on ovarian cancer cells. To understand the significance of these findings, this project will answer three questions: Is CXCR3 functional in ovarian cancer cells? What cells are producing CXCL10 and CXCR3 in ovarian cancer biopsies? Is CXCL10 modified post-translationally when it is made by cancer cells? The project will use a range of cell and molecular biology techniques, complex in vitro 3D human tumour microenvironment models, samples from patients with ovarian cancer and in silico modelling using existing RNAseq and protein databases from ovarian cancer tissues. Understanding the role of CXCL10 and its receptor in malignant cell growth and spread, as well as lymphocyte trafficking, could lead to novel approaches to immunotherapy. Directly inhibiting the actions of this chemokine receptor pair or the post translational modification of the chemokine, may complement existing therapies.

Characterisation of novel PD-L1-like Immuno-Regulators and their Role in Lung Cancer Biology

First Supervisor: Dr Tyson Sharp

Second Supervisor: Professor Yaohe Wang / Professor Claude Chelala

Centre for Molecular Oncology

Project Outline:

Lung cancer is the most common malignancy and the leading cause of cancer death globally. Although considerable advances in diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer have been made, the five-year survival rate of lung cancer is still poor. Therefore, it is imperative to further investigate the underlying mechanism of lung tumourigenesis and identify new targets for diagnosis and novel treatments. We have recently found that a deregulation of miRNA-silencing and hypoxia in cancer can affect tumour immunity. This PhD project will characterise new PD-L1-like immunoregulators and potential checkpoint inhibitors as novel biomarkers and targets for the development of immunotherapeutics in a panel of in vitro and in vivo lung cancer models.

Specially, this project will explore next-generation sequencing (RNA-Seq) data from human primary cells where there is defective hypoxic and miRNA signalling, recapitulating two key deregulated processes in many cancers. We will examine which mRNA and proteins are differentially expressed and also, from our preliminary analysis, which of these candidates have similar expression profiles and gene regulatory characteristics similar to those of PD-L1 and CTL4A.

This project is very novel and promises to produce significant amounts of new data and biology with respect to the exciting field of immune-oncology. Furthermore, this project will build the student’s skills in analysing NGS data and RNASeq, molecular cell biology and in vivo models of tumourigenesis, giving the student a fully rounded training in molecular oncology.


Frequently Asked Questions


How do I apply?

You should email your application to Your application will need to include:

Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Can overseas students apply?

Yes, students from all countries are invited to apply for the studentship, however the studentship will only cover the Home/EU equivalent proportion of the fees.

If, for fee purposes, you are classified as an overseas applicant, you will be responsible for paying the difference between the Home/EU and overseas rate.

What is the stipend?

In addition to the Home/EU tuition fees paid on a student's behalf, the CRUK studentship provides a tax free annual stipend of £21,000.

How many projects can I select?

You can select up to 2 projects on your application.

What is the duration of the studentship?

You will be expected to complete and graduate within 4 years.

Your stipend payment will be for 3 years.

What degree will I receive?

You will be registered at and awarded your PhD degree by Queen Mary University of London.

Are there any English language requirements?

If English is not your first language, or you do not have an undergraduate degree taught in a Majority English speaking country, you will need to show evidence of English proficiency.


What are the academic requirements?

You need to have, or expect to gain, a first or upper second-class honours degree or equivalent, in a relevant subject.

When will I hear whether I will be invited to interview?

Shortlisted candidates will receive an emailed invitation to interview the week commencing 03 April 2017. If you do not hear from us by then, please assume your application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.

What is the interview process?

The interviews will take place at Barts Cancer Institute, Charterhouse Square, London.

Interview date: 13 April 2017.

If shortlisted, you will be interviewed by a panel, who are independent of the project supervisory teams.

As part of the shortlisting process you may be contacted by a member of the project supervisory team for an informal interview with the opportunity to visit the labs.

How will you contact me?

Throughout the application and interview process, we will contact you using the email address that you provide on your application form; so please check it regularly. We may also contact you by telephone.

Who should I contact if I have a question?

If you have a question about a specific project please contact the supervisor directly. For general enquiries about the PhD studentship or application process please contact

If I am successful, when will I start my PhD?

You will enrol for your PhD on 26 September 2017.


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