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Defining the immune cells which best fight cancer

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, March 04, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Arguably, immune therapies for cancer are at a tipping point. The success of therapies for some patients with some types of cancer has made it clear that immunotherapies can work. Undoubtedly, there are many more successes to come. Understanding the mechanisms behind a strong anti-cancer immune response will surely seed new ideas for immune therapies. Recently, our research team has used microscopes to study the changing arrangements of molecules on the surface of immune cells as they survey other cells for signs of disease. In this project, we aim to compare the behaviour of immune cells isolated from blood versus those isolated from within tumours. We want to understand what makes a good immune response to cancer, which cells are important, and the time-course of their interactions. We will now compare how the surface organisation of human Natural Killer cells and T cells change upon activation and, in particular, how this varies for cells in blood or within a tumour. We will also test for whether or not there are populations of immune cells which may be especially efficient at infiltrating tumours and/or killing the cancer cells. As well as understanding immune cells in general, these data may, in the long term, help establish new lines of immune therapies.

This project is highly multi-disciplinary, involving state-of-the-art and novel microscopy, image analysis and cell biology, and the use of clinical samples. Davis’s laboratory has published over 130 papers in this research area establishing feasibility of the work, and many of his PhD students have gone on to high-level positions afterwards, in academia or in industry, including posts in Harvard University, Oxford, Cambridge and several now hold major permanent faculty positions, including Professorships.

Entry Requirements:
Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) with outstanding marks in the undergraduate modules. A masters degree would be advantageous. Overseas applicants must also check The Country Information Page to ensure eligibility for PhD is met Experience in human immune cell biology or microscopy is required

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.You MUST also submit an online application form - choose PhD Immunology.

Funding Notes

Studentship funding is for a duration of three years to commence in September 2020 and covers tuition fees and a UKRI stipend £19,000 per annum 2020/21.

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


1. Davis. D.M. The Beautiful Cure, Vintage paperback (2019)

2. Lopes F, Balint S, Valvo S, Felce JH, Hessel E, Dustin ML, Davis DM, Membrane nanoclusters of FcγRI segregate from inhibitory SIRPα upon activation of human macrophages, J. Cell Biol, 216, 1123-1141, (2017).

3. Davis D.M., How studying the immune system leads us to new medicines Lancet, 391, 2205-2206, (2018).

4 Bálint S., Lopes F.B., Davis D.M., A Nanoscale Reorganization of IL-15 Cytokine Receptor is Triggered by NKG2D in a Ligand Dependent Manner, Science Signaling, 11, 525, eaal3606, (2018).

5. Srpan K., Ambrose A., Karampatzakis A., Saeed M., Cartwright A.N.R., Guldevall K., Dos Santos Cruz De Matos G., Önfelt B., Davis D.M., Unzipping the Natural Killer cell immune synapse by shedding CD16, J. Cell Biol, 17, 3267-3283, (2018).

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