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How fibroblasts and immune-suppressive drugs prepare the soil for skin cancer


   Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology

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  Dr Ute Jungwirth  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Bath United Kingdom Bioengineering Cancer Biology Cell Biology Developmental Biology Molecular Biology Pharmacology

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following fully-funded PhD project, sponsored by the British Skin Foundation.

The anticipated start date is January – July 2022. 

Skin cancers are one of the most common cancers worldwide, and often develop as side effects in patients treated with immunosuppressive drugs.

Initiation and progression of non-melanoma skin cancers are driven by cells with stem cell-like properties. The emergence of this cell population involves extensive signalling crosstalk with other cell types in their microenvironment (fibroblasts, immune cells, endothelial cells) and can also be triggered by external factors (UV radiation, immunosuppressive drugs). In this project you will investigate two aspects of the initiation and progression of non-melanoma skin cancer.

You will focus on an aggressive subtype of non-melanoma skin cancer called cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC). First, you will study how the cells in the microenvironment impact cSCC cell growth and how they support the stem-cell like properties of the cancer cells. A better understanding of these processes has so far been hampered by the lack of a long-term human ex vivo model that allows precise dissection of the tumour-microenvironment crosstalk. Therefore, based on recent successes in generating stem cell-derived organoid cultures from mouse skin and human oral cancers, you will establish a human cSCC organoid co-culture model to study the impact of distinct cell types, particularly fibroblasts, on the cancer stem cell.

Immuno-suppressive and genotoxic/DNA damage-inducing pharmacological compounds and UV radiation are known to induce cSCC. However, little is known about the implications of these compounds for the tumour microenvironment, and how the microenvironment changes into a cancer-promoting ‘soil’. In the second part of this project, you will therefore test how immune-suppressive drugs, currently used in the clinic, change the phenotype of fibroblasts and consequently enable them to promote the stem-like properties of cancer-initiating cSCC cells phenotype using a range of state-of the art imaging, cell and molecular biology techniques.

This project is a collaboration between the labs of Dr Ute Jungwirth (lead supervisor, Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology) and Dr Gernot Walko (Department of Biology & Biochemistry) at the University of Bath, and clinical dermatologists Dr Girish Patel (European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, University of Cardiff) and Dr Magnus Lynch (Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, King’s College London).

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent). A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Funding Eligibility:

To be eligible for the studentship attached to this project, you must qualify as a Home student. To find out more about tuition fee status, see our fee status guidance or visit the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website.

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Ute Jungwirth on email address [Email Address Removed]

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Pharmacy & Pharmacology (full-time).

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Note: Applications may close earlier than the advertised deadline if a suitable candidate is found; therefore, early application is recommended.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.


Funding Notes

Home students applying for this project will be considered for a 3-year studentship funded by the British Skin Foundation. The studentship will cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend at the UKRI level (£15,609 per year, 2021/22 rate). The successful candidate will also have access to a generous budget for research expenses and training.
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