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Investigating the molecular biology of virus-associated cancer

   School of Molecular Biosciences

   Friday, March 31, 2023  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project is one of 15 four year PhD Studentships funded by Medical Research Scotland (MRS) ( to be delivered jointly by the named University and External Partner Organisation (EPO). The Studentship will provide first-class academic, and additional training provided by the EPO, needed to equip the successful candidate for a science career in an increasingly competitive market.

"Targeting Mdm2 in Epstein-Barr virus associated disease" to be delivered by the University of Glasgow [Supervisors: Professor Joanna Wilson (School of Molecular Biosciences, University of Glasgow) and Dr Danny Huang (School of Cancer Sciences, University of Glasgow and Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute)] and Cancer Research Horizons ( [External Partner Organisation supervisor: Dr Craig Mackay].

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was the first human virus to be discovered as a cancer-associated virus and it is causal to approximately 150,000 cancer deaths per year, world-wide. Understanding how the virus causes cancer at the molecular level, is vital to combatting EBV associated disease. In this project, we will be focussing on an important viral gene (termed EBNA1) and its interactions with a cellular protein (termed Mdm2). Within the cell, MDM2 acts in opposition to a protein produced by a tumour suppressor gene called p53. Many students of biology have heard of the tumour suppressor protein p53 as the guardian of the genome, an essential cellular factor which removes or repairs damaged cells. Without this safety-net protein, cells are at high risk of becoming cancerous. EBNA1 disrupts the normal balance between MDM2 and p53 and in so doing, places the infected cell at a higher risk of cancer development. In this project, the student will be investigating the complexities of these interactions from gene, to RNA, to protein, to structure. Through the project we will also be assessing the efficacy of MDM2 inhibitors as potential treatments. A full rounded training will be given in state of the art (such as NMR to examine RNA-protein interactions) and gold-standard (such as genetic engineering) molecular techniques to explore structural biology questions and determine the functional dynamic between these key genes. The project will be based on the main campus of Glasgow University, as well as at the near-by Beatson Institute for Cancer Research. These two institutions provide a rich and diverse research environment with several research support facilities to explore molecular structure and function. The School of Molecular Biosciences has a cohort of approximately 60 PhD students with a calendar of academic and social events through the year and a strongly supportive assessment system to facilitate successful completion of studies.


Enquiries should be sent by email to: Professor Joanna Wilson:


Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or masters level qualification, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK, in a molecular biological subject (such as molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics), or related programme (chemistry, biophysics also considered). Preference will be given to those with a good knowledge of molecular and/or analytical and/or structural techniques. The ideal candidate will be passionate about biology, motivated, organised and hard working.

Applications are welcome from UK nationals, EU nationals that hold UK settled or pre-settled status and international students, but international students will be required to fund the difference between the Home/UK fee rate and international fee rate.

Applicants should use the on-line application form for the University of Glasgow at the link below, providing education details and contact information of at least two academic referees:

Please note, your application may be shared with the funders of this PhD Studentship, Medical Research Scotland and Cancer Research Horizons.

Interviews are expected to take place within 4 weeks after the closing date for applications.

It is anticipated that the PhD Studentship will start 2 October 2023.

Funding Notes

PhD Studentship provides: an annual tax-free stipend of £19,000, increasing to £19,500 over the four years; tuition fees at home rates only; consumables; and generous travel allowance. International fees are not covered. International students applying for the Studentship must provide evidence by the date of interview that they are able to finance the fee top-up required to the international fee level.


Kowalczyk, D. et al. (2022). Life Science Alliance, 5, e202201472 doi:10.26508/lsa.202201472
AlQarni, S. et al. (2018). Oncogene 37:3998-4012 10.1038/s41388-018-0147x 4
Wilson, J.B. et al (2018). Cancers 10, 109 doi:10.3390/cancers10040109

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