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Immunotherapy: Killing Cancer using Dead Virus

   Faculty of Medicine and Health

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  Dr S Griffin, Dr A Samson  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

It is now accepted that our immune systems can hold the key to treating otherwise incurable cancers. So-called “immunotherapy” is an increasingly common method of treating tumours, leading to impressive increases in patient responses. 

Immunotherapy usually involves the use of antibodies to antagonise negative regulation of the immune response, known as checkpoints. However, another form of immunotherapy involves using viruses, with the first such therapy now increasingly used to treat melanoma skin cancers. These “oncolytic viruses” (OV) were originally thought to merely replicate within, and subsequently kill cancer cells. However, we now understand that they actually exert a complex and potent effect upon the immune system, generating anti-cancer immunity. 

We have discovered that modifying a particular OV such that it is no longer infectious actually improves the ability of this agent to treat liver cancers. Moreover, the inactivated, or “dead” virus also co-operates with current treatment to achieve synergistic therapy. Understanding the response to this agent should not only allow us to improve therapy, but also provide insight into the fundamental biology of protective immune responses targeting tumours within the hepatic microenvironment. 

Techniques associated with project:

Isolation and cultivation of primary human liver tissue and immune cells, cell culture including up to BSL2 and 3 biological containment, preclinical model experimentation and tissue processing/analysis, immunological phenotyping and functional assays using flow cytometry and other methods, immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence, western blotting and other proteomic analysis, RNA Seq and associated bio-informatics. 

This project is available as part of the International PhD Academy: Medical Research


You should hold a first degree equivalent to at least a UK upper second class honours degree in a relevant subject.

Candidates whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. The Faculty of Medicine and Health minimum requirements are:

  • British Council IELTS - score of 7.0 overall, with no element less than 6.5
  • TOEFL iBT - overall score of 100 with the listening and reading element no less than 22, writing element no less than 23 and the speaking element no less than 24.

How to apply:

Applications can be made at any time. To apply for this project applicants should complete an online application form and submit this alongside a full academic CV, degree transcripts (or marks so far if still studying) and degree certificates. Please make it clear in the research information section that you are applying for the International PhD Academy: Medical Research, as well as the title of the project you wish to be considered for.

We also require 2 academic references to support your application. Please ask your referees to send these references on your behalf, directly to [Email Address Removed]

Any queries regarding the application process should be directed to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This project is aimed at International applicants who are able to self fund their studies or who have a sponsor who will provide their funding.


1. Samson; Scott; et al., Griffin; Stead; Short; Melcher. Intravenous delivery of oncolytic reovirus to brain tumour patients immunologically primes for subsequent checkpoint blockade. Sci. Transl. Med. 2018, 10, eaam7577. 
2. Samson; Bentham; et al., Selby; Errington-Mais; Melcher and Griffin. Oncolytic Reovirus as a Combined Antiviral and Anti-Tumour Agent for the Treatment of Liver Cancer. Gut, 2016 Nov 15. pii: gutjnl-2016-312009. 
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