Funding providers: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) DTP studentship with a 50% Match funded contribution from Swansea University's Faculty of Science and Engineering
Subject areas: Chemistry, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, life sciences
Project start date:
- 1 October 2022 (Enrolment open from mid-September)
- 1 January 2023 (Enrolment open from mid-December)
- 1 April 2023 (Enrolment open from mid–March)
- 1 July 2023 (Enrolment open from mid-June)
Project supervisors: Professor Juan Mareque-Rivas
Aligned programme of study: PhD in Chemistry
Mode of study: Full-time
Cancer immunotherapy is revolutionizing cancer treatment. However, the current immunotherapy drugs only benefit a relatively small fraction of cancer patients, and the treatments are often very expensive. New nanotechnology platforms, chemistry approaches and advanced biomaterials will play a critical role in the development of more effective immunotherapy treatments that can help more patients. One of the most exciting areas is in the development of cancer vaccines to activate and train the patient’s immune system to detect and attack the cancer cells. To this end, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the impressive efficacy of mRNA vaccines delivered via lipid nanoparticles (LNPs). However, several challenges remain towards enabling LNP-assisted mRNA vaccination also to work for cancer treatment, including cell-specific targeting, improve the delivery efficiency in vivo and the stability. Another key aspect is proper integration of the nanovaccines with other therapeutic modalities to make the cancer treatment more effective. Accumulating evidence suggests that the tumour immune microenvironment (TME) plays a critical role in anti-cancer immunity, and unless specifically targeted it would result in the immunotherapy being ineffective. In addition, it is important to consider that tumours differ across patients, and therefore specific and personalised approaches (rather than generic vaccine strategies) are required to optimise the vaccine therapy.
We have developed a versatile platform technology that encapsulating iron oxide nanoparticles inside phospholipid micelles (mIONPs) provides effective in vitro and in vivo delivery of anti-cancer vaccines, and of additional immunomodulatory payloads and drugs for chemoimmunotherapy. It provides also imaging and magnetic features to guide and study cellular specificity and biodistribution and therapeutic responses. Recently we have obtained experimental evidence of the importance of the intrinsic cancer therapy provided by its iron content and enzyme-like properties.
This PhD project seeks to develop new molecular tools (engineered amphiphilic peptides, cationic and ionizable lipids, and iron nanostructured materials) to create iron-loaded lipid nanoparticles with new chemically programmed features for development of personalised cancer vaccines, overcome immune-suppression in the TME and trigger iron-catalysed cancer cell death. The goal is a creating a nanomedicine platform that significantly improves current immunotherapy and chemoimmunotherapy, and with potential for rapid translation into clinical practice.
The project represents an excellent opportunity to work in a supportive research environment with talented and dedicated colleagues, in collaboration with researchers in other universities and research institutes in the UK and Europe , and to develop and expand professional skills and experience at the interface of chemistry, materials, engineering, biology, and medicine.
Candidates must normally hold an undergraduate degree at 2.1 level in chemistry or a related subject, as well as a master’s degree with a minimum overall grade at ‘Merit’ in chemistry or a relevant engineering /science discipline (or Non-UK equivalent as defined by Swansea University).
English Language requirements: If applicable – IELTS 6.0 overall (with at least 5.5 in each individual component) or Swansea recognised equivalent.
This scholarship is open to candidates of any nationality.