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Enhancing immune stimulation of novel anti-cancer viral vaccine vectors

Cardiff School of Medicine

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Dr R Stanton , Dr Edward Wang No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The ‘GW4 BioMed MRC DTP’ is awarding up to 18 studentships with an October 2020 start date, aligned with the themes of Infection, Immunity and Repair; Neuroscience and Mental Health; and Population Health. The DTP also places a strong emphasis on cross-cutting skills priorities (quantitative skills, interdisciplinary skills and in vivo skills), and may advertise projects outside these themes. The DTP welcomes students from non-medical backgrounds and can fund additional training to assist discipline conversion. Most studentships will be 3.5 years full time or up to 7 years part-time, and can be longer where additional training is undertaken.


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in the immunocompromised, and if it crosses the placenta to an unborn baby - over 1,000 babies are affected every year in the UK. However, the virus also exhibits two unique properties that have made it a paradigm for understanding the ways that pathogens interact with the immune system. Firstly, once caught, HCMV is never killed by the immune system, despite infecting professional antigen presenting cells (APCs) such as dendritic cells and macrophages, which would normally drive an effective anti-viral immune response. Understanding how the virus achieves this impressive feat is revealing important details about the underlying function of the immune system. Secondly, the virus is able to ‘re-target’ the immune system to fight other diseases very efficiently. This makes the virus extremely interesting as a vaccine vector, and we are actively working to use HCMV as a vaccine vector against cancer. However we still do not understand how the virus achieves these twin feats of avoiding being killed, while inducing large immune responses. This proposal will therefore use cutting-edge multiplexed quantitative proteomics to determine how HCMV manipulates APCs, how this affects the ability of the immune system to control infection and how it enables the virus to so efficiently re-target the immune system against other diseases.

The knowledge gained from this work will have implications for our understanding of all pathogen infections, the functioning of the immune system in health and disease, and the generation of novel viral vaccines against multiple diseases, including cancer.

The successful applicant will receive training in an exceptionally broad range of techniques, including molecular biology, virology, functional immunology, tissue culture, and state-of-the-art quantitative proteomics. They will work in a well funded lab, with multiple grants from both the Medical Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust.

Our work is published in world leading journals including Cell, Science and PNAS. To see example of the work and papers from our lab, please visit our webpage:


The DTP welcomes students from both biomedical and non-biomedical backgrounds (especially in areas of computing, mathematics and the physical sciences) and can fund additional training, including Masters, to assist discipline conversion. Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK in an appropriate degree subject. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will only be considered if they also have a Master’s degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded through GW4 BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. It consists of full UK/EU tuition fees, as well as a Doctoral Stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum (£15,009 p.a. for 2019/20, updated yearly).
Additional research and training funding is available over the course of the programme. This will covers costs such as courses, conferences and travel, and research consumables. Additional competitive funds are available for high-cost or exceptional training.
The research projects listed are in competition with the 87 others - only 18 projects will be taken up as they will be awarded to the best applicants.



You will need to complete both an application to the GW4 BioMed MRC DTP for an ‘offer of funding’ and to Cardiff University for an ‘offer to study’

1) Applying for an ‘offer of funding’
Please complete the online application form by 5pm, 25 November 2019.
The Research Theme Panels will complete the shortlisting and inform applicants by 19 December 2019.

If you are shortlisted you will need to;

• contact your chosen supervisor(s) to discuss your application between 3 and 15 January 2020
• submit two references and a copy of your academic transcript(s) by 17 January 2020
• attend an interview in Cardiff on 21 or 22 January 2020

Further details will be included in the shortlisting letter.
More information on the application process may be found here:

2) Applying for an ‘offer to study’

Applicants should submit an application for postgraduate study via the Cardiff University Online Application Service.

Applicants should select Doctor of Philosophy Medicine, with a start date of October 2020.
In the research proposal section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided. In the funding section, please select "I will be applying for a scholarship / grant" and specify that you are applying for advertised funding from GW4 BioMed MRC DTP.
If are applying for more than one Cardiff University project please note this in the research proposal section.

UK Research Council eligibility conditions apply (Full awards (fees plus maintenance stipend) are open to UK Nationals and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements. To be eligible for the full award, EU Nationals must have been in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the course for which they are seeking funding, including for the purposes of full-time education. EU Nationals who do not meet the above residency requirement are eligible for a fees only award, provided that they have been ordinarily resident in the EU for at least 3 years prior to the start of their proposed programme of study.)

For DTP enquiries please contact the DTP Manager, Erica Lewis at
For enquiries about your University application, please contact the Postgraduate Administrator

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