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  Cell biology and evolution of cancer metastasis

   Department of Biomedical Sciences

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

We are interested in the spread of cancer, a process called metastasis. Metastasis is responsible for the majority of cancer deaths and there are currently no effective treatments to stop this process. Metastasis is a complex process that involves movement of cancer cells away from the primary tumour, spreading through the blood or lymphatic system and then colonising distant sites in the body. It is this final stage – the colonisation of distant sites – that is our area of research. Cancer cells arriving at new sites often remain dormant for many years as the new site lacks the specific environment to support their growth. These metastatic cells need to acquire new mutations and adaptations, often remodelling their new environment in the process, in order to successfully colonise the new site. How this process happens is the focus of this project.

This project will apply a range of techniques in cell biology and experimental evolution to understand how cancer cells adapt to new environments. One of the key ways that cells interact with their environment is through focal adhesions. Focal adhesions are large, multi-protein complexes that connect the cytoskeleton to the extracellular matrix (ECM) via cell surface integrin molecules. They play a critical role in how cells sense and respond to their environment and their dynamic turnover is essential for both cancer cell migration and for remodelling the ECM. We are interested in the role of post-translational modifications such as SUMOylation in the regulation of focal adhesions.

It is likely that cancer cells will evolve different strategies for interacting with their environment depending on the precise nature of the environment. This project will explore how different strategies for regulating focal adhesions evolve in different types of ECM using experimental evolution techniques.

This project will involve a wide variety of techniques including confocal microscopy and live cell imaging, the use of novel tissue engineering approaches to study metastatic colonisation, experimental evolution approaches including selection experiments, computer modelling approaches such as agent-based models and next generation sequencing techniques such as RNAseq and exome sequencing along with the appropriate bioinformatics analysis.

School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading:  

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport.    

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café and social spaces. 

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Our students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach and public engagement activities.  

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills. 

The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures. We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically. 



Applicants should have a good degree (minimum of a UK Upper Second (2:1) undergraduate degree or equivalent) in Biological Sciences or Biomedical Sciences or a strongly-related discipline. Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer pre-sessional courses that can help with meeting these requirements. 


How to apply: 

Submit an application for a PhD in Biological Sciences or Biomedical Sciences at 


Further information: 


Please also see: 

Web link: 

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.
If you are applying to an international funding scheme, we encourage you to get in contact as we may be able to support you in your application.


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