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Cancer: Repurposing drugs as new treatments for breast cancer

   Faculty of Medicine and Health

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

About the Project

Breast cancer (BC) is the most common cancer, with over 1 million new cases diagnosed worldwide each year. For some types of BC, hormonal treatments have been very effective but one particular BC subtype, triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), is highly aggressive and lacks a targeted therapy. New approaches are therefore desperately needed.

Recent studies in glioblastoma and melanoma have identified a new class of drugs offering potential as cancer therapeutics. These drugs have been developed for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and inhibit the activity of the aspartic acid protease BACE1. However, high expression of BACE1 is linked to poor prognosis in TNBC and so BACE1 inhibitors are also promising candidates for treating TNBC.

BACE1 functions to cleave membrane proteins leading to changes in function. This can have dramatic effects on a diverse range of signaling pathways and responses. Given the broad actions of BACE1, changes to the tumour, immune and endothelial cell secretome following BACE1 knockdown/inhibition using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry-based proteomics will be a primary aim of the project to provide focus. Following on from this, endpoint assays measuring effects of BACE1 on hallmarks of cancer (metabolic reprofiling, growth, migration, motility, invasion) and subsequent modulation of the efficacy of chemotherapy will be a particular focus. 

Previous reports suggest that BACE1 can modulate tumour cell growth (1). In support of this, our recent work suggests that BACE1 plays an important role in metabolic reprogramming (2), immune cell recruitment, and therefore tumour immunosurveillance. Additionally, BACE1 is critical for endothelial cell function (3) – and therefore implicated in vascularisation of tumours in vivo

This project will therefore fully characterize the role of BACE1 in breast:endothelial cell, and breast:immune cell crosstalk using BACE1 inhibitors and siRNA against BACE1 using 2D and 3D co-culture models in order to closely mimic tumour micro-environment. Key findings will also be validated using isolated cells and tissues from BACE1 knockout mice, in vivomodels of cancer and patient derived cells and tissues. 

The outcomes from this project could have huge potential for improving TNBC treatment through ‘drug-repurposing’.

Training will be provided in all aspects, and so no specific previous experience is required. The project will use a range of bioinformatic, cell and molecular biology techniques to achieve the aims outlined above. This includes training in 2D and 3D TNBC coculture models; drug treatments; plasmid and siRNA transfection; mass spectrometry-based proteomics; metabolic profiling; cell fate assays; flow cytometry; immunoblotting and immunofluorescent microscopy. These broad skills provide a solid basis to pursue a career in most biology fields but the appointed student will develop strong background knowledge and specific expertise that is particularly relevant to developing a research career in cancer biology.

This project is available as 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

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. Paris D, et al. Eur J Pharmacol. 2005;514(1):1-15. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2005.02.050.
2. Hamilton DL, et al. Diabetologia. 2014;57(8):1684-92. doi: 10.1007/s00125-014-3269-x.
3. Meakin PJ, et al. J Clin Invest. 2020;130(8):4104-4117.

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