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  Cancer: Characterization of EGFR signaling activated by the endothelium in the process of breast cancer metastasis to the brain

   Faculty of Medicine and Health

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) is important in normal physiology regulating epithelial development and homeostasis. In cancer, deregulation resulting from mutation, amplification or transcriptional upregulation promotes tumorigenesis. Consequently, EGFR is the target of many cancer therapies approved in clinical practice. Our previous work investigated how EGFR signaling promotes metastasis of breast cancer cells to the brain. Brain metastases are untreatable leading to patient death. We found that the guanine nucleotide exchange factor DOCK4 which activates RAC1 downstream of EGFR is essential for extravasation of triple negative breast cancer cells to the brain in vivo. Critically, we found that EGFR is activated by the brain endothelium. We have also developed a 3-dimensional culture model which allows investigation of the process of cancer cells crossing the endothelium through perfused endothelial tubes. Our aim will be to investigate whether EGFR inhibitors inhibit brain metastasis using the culture and in vivo models available in our laboratory. Furthermore, we will determine how breast cancer dormancy or proliferation in the brain are affected by EGFR inhibition. In addition, we will employ RNA sequencing to identify new druggable targets in the EGFR pathway. The studies will help understand how breast cancer cells spread and may validate EGFR inhibition as strategy to inhibit metastasis and early growth in the brain.

Techniques associated with this project:

The PhD student will gain experience in state-of-the-art biomedical research methods and techniques including RNA sequencing and pathway analysis, culture of 3-dimensional model, confocal microscopy, immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence, western blotting, in vitro and in vivo extravasation, and determination of proliferation and dormancy using appropriate reporters.

This project is part of the International PhD Academy: Medical Research


You should hold a first degree equivalent to at least a UK upper second class honours degree in a relevant subject.

Candidates whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. The Faculty of Medicine and Health minimum requirements are:

  • British Council IELTS - score of 7.0 overall, with no element less than 6.5
  • TOEFL iBT - overall score of 100 with the listening and reading element no less than 22, writing element no less than 23 and the speaking element no less than 24.

How to apply:

Applications can be made at any time. To apply for this project applicants should complete an online application form and attach the following documentation to support their application. 

  • a full academic CV
  • degree certificate and transcripts of marks
  • Evidence that you meet the University's minimum English language requirements (if applicable)

To help us identify that you are applying for this project please ensure you provide the following information on your application form;

  • Select PhD in Medicine, Health and Human Disease as your programme of study
  • Give the full project title and name the supervisors listed in this advert

Any queries regarding the application process should be directed to

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

This project is aimed at International applicants who are able to self fund their studies or who have a sponsor who will provide their funding.


1) Brain endothelium activation of EGFR signaling promotes breast cancer cell extravasation during brain metastasis. Galloni C, Egnuni T, Mittnacht S, Speirs V, Lorger M, Mavria G. Submitted, Current Biology.
2) Identification and validation of DOCK4 as a potential biomarker for risk of bone metastasis development in patients with early breast cancer (2018) Westbrook JA, Wood SL, Cairns DA, McMahon K, Gahlaut R, Thygesen H, Shires M, Roberts S, Marshall H, Oliva MR, Dunning MJ, Hanby AM, Selby PJ, Speirs V, Mavria G, Coleman RE, Brown JE. J Pathol. 247:381-391.
3) Abraham S, Scarcia M, Bagshaw RD, McMahon K, Grant G, Harvey T, Yeo M, Esteves FO,
Thygesen HH, Jones PF, Speirs V, Hanby AM, Selby PJ, Lorger M, Dear TN, Pawson T, Marshall CJ
and Mavria G (2015). A Rac/Cdc42 exchange factor complex promotes formation of lateral filopodia and blood vessel lumen morphogenesis Nat Commun. 6, 7286.

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