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Early detection of clinically-relevant mutational signatures

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, November 15, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Mutational signatures in human cancers are the final outcome of combinations of DNA damage and DNA repair processes. Direct DNA damage incurred by tobacco smoke, UV light or other environmental mutagens and direct abnormalities of a DNA repair pathway like homologous recombination (HR) repair or mismatch repair (MMR) leave characteristic imprints on the genome. However, abnormal cellular processes like replication stress can result in mutagenesis as well, albeit indirectly. Mutational signatures are therefore simply a read-out of a spectrum of cellular abnormalities and can thus be thought of and exploited in that way. In this studentship, which shall be a combined wet-lab/dry-lab project, we aim to identify on-going mutational signatures that can be used as a surrogate for particular cancer development processes and determine signatures that may be informative for therapeutic intervention. Apart from identifying clinically relevant mutational signatures, we aim to design mutational-signature-based clinical assays that could be used for early detection. We will test our assays, optimize their performance and demonstrate how well they perform in a clinical screening setting.
More information about the research undertaken in the Nik-Zainal group can be found here:

How to apply
Applications will need to be made through the University Application Portal and will entail an application fee of £65. Please visit: for further information about the programme and to access the Applicant Portal. Please note that the course code for PhD applications to the MRC Cancer Unit is MDCU22. Whilst making your online application please make it clear which project area(s) and principal investigator(s) you are interested in working with. Your online application needs to include:
• A CV, including full details of all University course grades to date.
• Contact details for two academic or professional referees.
• A personal statement outlining your interest in a specific project area, what you hope to achieve from a PhD, and your research experience to date.

The above information must be provided under relevant sections on the application portal.

Completing the Research section
If you are applying for one project only: in the ‘Proposed title of Research’ textbox, insert the project title. If you wish to apply for more than one project, insert ‘Cancer Research’.

If you are applying to more than one supervisor: in the ‘Proposed Supervisor’ textbox, insert the initials of the Supervisors you wish to consider your application and in the ‘Research Summary’ textbox, insert the project titles being offered by those Supervisors.
Please describe your research experience in the appropriate textbox.

Interviews are expected to take place in December.

Please contact with any other enquiries concerning studentships or eligibility criteria.

Funding Notes

We welcome applications from those holding or expecting to obtain at least an upper second class degree (or equivalent) in a relevant scientific subject. Studentships are funded by the Medical Research Council and are open to UK and EU applicants only. Other international students are not eligible to apply. UK applicants will receive full funding of University and College fees and a stipend of £18,000 pa. EU applicants will be funded on a fees-only basis, unless they meet the MRC's eligibility criteria for residency For further details visit: View Website). Successful applicants will be registered with the University of Cambridge.

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