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A Breathomic-Based Extracellular Vesicle Approach to Improve Malignant mesothelioma Diagnosis

Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre

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Dr S Haywood-Small , Dr N J Peake , Dr M Herigstad No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is an incurable cancer associated with late-diagnosis, poor 5-year survival and limited treatment options. Current diagnostic options are invasive and fail to identify MM patients at an earlier, treatable stage, highlighting the urgent need for a new, non-invasive diagnostic method. One new area involves volatile organic compounds (VOCs), these act as signature molecules in exhaled breath to identify cancer. Previously, we have shown that distinct MM cell lines can be distinguished using their distinct VOC profile. VOC profiles directly agree with the few emerging reports on exhaled patient breath. It remains unclear what a diagnostic breath test will look like in clinical practice. However, it is crucial that MM breath analysis research explores and combines the full range of diagnostic markers.
Extracellular vesicles (EV) are also secreted by mesothelioma cells, revealing additional diagnostic information. In MM, several EV-derived RNAs can modulate crucial cell functions such as methylation, autophagy, apoptosis, proliferation, invasion, migration and chemo/radio-resistance. Recently, one study reported that EVs can be detected in exhaled breath condensate in bronchial asthma. Therefore, we aim to combine VOC profiles with EV-derived miRNAs and other non-coding-RNA to assist with differential diagnosis of MM.
For the first time, this study will explore the extraction and identification of RNA from mesothelioma derived EVs to reveal diagnostic information. We aim to diagnose mesothelioma non-invasively through a combined VOC-based/RNA derived EV breath test. This research has the potential to revolutionise the way we detect and diagnose mesothelioma, data generated may also inform other cancers.
The research team is based within the Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. The study will be led by Dr Haywood-Small (mesothelioma biology) in collaboration with Dr Nick Peake (EV isolation and interest in miRNA and functional analysis) and Dr Mari Herigstad (physiologist with a speciality in respiratory symptoms). Additional support will be provided by Dr Jason Webber (interest in EV isolation from biofluids, and biomarker discovery), a senior lecturer based at the Institute of Life Science, Swansea University Medical School.

Further information on the studentships and how to apply can be found here: BMRC GTA Studentships

The Biomolecular Research Centre conducts research activity in several key areas:

• Disease mechanisms

• Bioanalytical Science

• Molecular Microbiology

• Chemistry

• Biomaterials

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 staff from the BMRC were returned in the Biological Sciences unit of assessment (UoA5) with 46 per cent of our research being rated as world leading or internationally excellent (4* or 3*).

In 2012 the BMRC was awarded an Athena SWAN Silver Award, which was renewed in 2016 then again in 2019, for 3 years. Athena SWAN is a charter to advance women’s careers in STEM subjects. The award recognises and celebrates good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in STEM subject areas within higher education.

As a research centre we offer a vibrant community in which postgraduate researchers work closely with academics to develop their knowledge and expertise. We have a community of approximately 45 postgraduate students in BMRC who are at the heart of contributing to our research output. All doctoral students are supported by a comprehensive programme of doctoral training and encouraged to present their research at national and international conferences.

To apply, or for queries regarding the application process and eligibility, please contact [Email Address Removed]. For specific details on the project and for help in writing your research proposal contact: [Email Address Removed]

To view the GTA homepage with full details of the studentship please follow this link:

Funding Notes

This GTA studentship provides UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend (£15,285 for 2020/21) for 3.5 years. International applicants please note that the shortfall between the Home and Overseas fee must be covered by the student.

Applicants should have a minimum 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in a science-based degree. A Master’s degree in a relevant discipline would be an advantage. Previous experience of cell culture techniques and molecular biology are essential, while gas chromatography–mass spectrometry is desirable. Suitable candidates will have excellent verbal and written communication, be self-driven and have strong problem-solving abilities in relation to translational cancer research.

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