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Assessing the role of sleep in reducing risk and improving outcomes for breast cancer

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, September 01, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, through links with the Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR Bristol BRC) and University Hospitals Bristol, is offering an exciting 3-year PhD opportunity funded by the Above and Beyond Breast Cancer Legacies. The PhD studentship will involve mixed-methods research (both qualitative and quantitative data analysis) to investigate the links between sleep patterns and breast cancer risk and progression. The successful candidate will benefit from a supervisory team with expertise in cancer and molecular epidemiology as well as medical oncology.
This studentship is ideal for a talented graduate in a relevant biomedical or health sciences discipline wishing to develop strong interdisciplinary skills at the interface of molecular epidemiology and medical oncology. You will be based in the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit team within Population Health Sciences at the University of Bristol, a leading centre for excellence in population health science. The successful candidate will have access to an excellent training portfolio of short courses and transferable skills training and be part of a cross-disciplinary cohort of PhD students. There will be opportunities to work with a number of other sleep and cancer researchers within the University as well as potential for international collaboration.
The successful applicant will be supervised by a team including Dr Rebecca Richmond, Dr Tim Robinson, Prof Deborah Lawlor and Prof Richard Martin.


There is an extensive literature surrounding the impact disturbance to the body clock has on breast cancer risk, although much of the evidence comes from studies on animal rather than humans. While previous human studies have focused on the potential carcinogenic effect of night shift work, we have recently investigated the impact of sleep on breast cancer risk using data from women enrolled in large population-based studies. We found that women who woke earlier and who slept longer seemed to be less likely to get breast cancer. However, we do not know why this is and further work to understanding potential mechanisms is required. In addition, looking at the influence of sleep preference (e.g. morning/evening preference) vs. actual sleep patterns requires further exploration. Understanding the timing of risk is also necessary to assess whether sleep patterns are important at certain times in the life-course so that interventions can be developed to support that. Related to this is the need to evaluate whether sleep has an influence on outcomes such as survival, recurrence and treatment success among women diagnosed with breast cancer. Finally, an assessment of potential interventions to improve sleep among women diagnosed with, or at high risk of, breast cancer is needed, including evaluating the perceived importance of sleep and acceptability of interventions within a clinical setting.

There will be scope for the student to define the precise nature of the work within these confines, although we anticipate that the PhD will involve: evaluating large-scale epidemiological data; integrating molecular data to investigate underlying mechanisms; assessing the potential role of sleep in breast cancer development, progression, recurrence and treatment success; performing a qualitative evaluation of the perceived importance of sleep and acceptability of interventions to improve sleep within a clinical setting.
Applicants are encouraged to email to discuss the PhD in more detail. We would especially welcome a brief curriculum vitae at this stage, as well as a short explanation as to why you are interested in pursuing a PhD in this area. If you are intending to apply, you will need to make an online application with an accompanying research proposal (no more than 1500 words) at Please choose Faculty of Health Science and Population Health PhD. Please ensure you have read our admissions statement before making an application.

We encourage applicants to submit their application before September, with an anticipated start date of 1st December 2019.

Funding Notes

Funding is available for UK/EU including a stipend of £15,995-£16,626, fees and research grant of £4000 per year. Non-EU applicants are welcome to apply but would need to cover the difference between home and overseas fees.
Closing date: 9am 1st September 2019

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