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4-year PhD Studentship: Identifying mechanistic pathways of cancer drug targets

   Faculty of Health Sciences

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  Prof Tom Gaunt, Dr Pau Erola  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

We have demonstrated the potential of genetic instruments of a drug target to predict the potential of a drug on a range of disease outcomes [1] using Mendelian randomization (MR) [2] and genetic colocalization. Our approach uses common genetic variants that influence circulating protein levels or gene expression of the drug target and evaluates the impact of these on diseases. This enables both beneficial and harmful effects to be predicted, and could inform target prioritization (for new drugs), drug repurposing or safety considerations (on-target side-effects). In this new project we aim to use molecular interaction data to identify mechanistic pathways that may tell us about off-target side-effects or mediating mechanisms that offer alternative targets.

Aims and objectives

Our first aim is to develop methods that use molecular interaction data to identify alternative targets and mechanisms of drugs. Our second aim is to apply these methods to identify new drug targets and repurposing opportunities that may prevent or treat cancer. Objectives:

  1. Collate molecular interaction and tissue-specific data resources
  2. Develop new methods that integrate molecular interaction data with MR methods
  3. Apply these methods to identify drugs and repurposing opportunities for cancer


This is a data science/bioinformatics project that will involve coding, data integration and analysis. You will be encouraged to develop good research software engineering skills to ensure rigorous analyses, reproducible results and wide re-use of the methods and tools you develop in your project. You will work alongside cancer researchers, data scientists and epidemiologists within the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit and Integrative Cancer Epidemiology Programme and have the opportunity to attend a wide range of training in year 1 to develop appropriate skills for this interdisciplinary project.

How to apply for this project

This project will be based in Bristol Medical School - Population Health Sciences in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Bristol.

Please visit the Faculty of Health Sciences website for details of how to apply

Funding Notes

This project is open for University of Bristol PGR scholarship applications (closing date 25th February 2022)
The University of Bristol PGR scholarship pays tuition fees and a maintenance stipend (at the minimum UKRI rate) for the duration of a PhD (typically three years but can be up to four years).


1. Zheng et al, Nature Genetics 2020. DOI: 10.1038/s41588-020-0682-6
2. Richmond and Davey Smith, Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med 2022. DOI 10.1101/cshperspect.a040501
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