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Investigating the pathogenesis of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in oropharyngeal cancer

Department of Biomedical and Forensic Sciences

About the Project

School / Department: Department of Biomedical and Forensic Sciences, School of Human Sciences
Role title: PhD Studentship in Biomedical Sciences
Responsible to: Director of Studies (Dr Elizabeth Marsh)
Studentship Ref: LNS_HPV_PGRS_0820

Purpose / Objectives

• To undertake a full time PhD programme investigating the pathogenesis of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in oropharyngeal cancer

Description of the Project

HPV causes cancers of the genital tract, predominantly cervical cancer. Over the past 10 years increasing evidence has suggested that HPV influences the development of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. We now know that HPV is associated with a subset of these cancers that arise in the oropharynx, and we also know that younger men are particularly at risk.

Despite a thorough understanding of the natural history of HPV within a cervical infection, it is still not clear how HPV causes oropharyngeal cancer. We have therefore established a clinical study with University Hospitals of Derby and Burton (UHDB) to investigate the prevalence and pathogenesis of oral HPV. This study recruits patients who are undergoing routine tonsillectomy, and collects both their tonsils, an oral swab, and a questionnaire related to lifestyle behaviours thought to be risk factors for this disease (drinking, smoking, and sexual practices).

You will use molecular techniques (qPCR, qRT-PCR, western blot, amongst others) to investigate the prevalence of oral HPV within these clinical samples; identify the viral type and viral load; and the pathogenesis of active infections. As part of the project, we will work in collaboration with Dr David Boocock (Nottingham Trent University) to develop mass spectrometry-based screens to identify biomarkers that are predictive of virulent HPV infections and pre-cancerous changes. You will also undertake multivariate analyses of the pathogenesis data with that of the lifestyle questionnaires, in order to infer disease risk.

This project will therefore improve our understanding of the natural history of, and risk factors for, high risk HPV infections within the oropharynx.

Principal accountabilities / responsibilities

• To undertake research and scholarly activity associated with your PhD programme:
• To investigate the natural history (prevalence, incidence, and pathogenesis) of oral HPV infection within tonsil tissue of the health community, to elucidate how pathogenesis of oral HPV influences the development of oropharyngeal cancer
• To identify key biomarkers of cellular changes within the healthy oral mucosa, initiated by an HPV infection
• To observe and implement University policies and procedures
• To obtain a research passport with UHDB NHS Foundation Trust and interact with ethical committees; to assist in the recruitment of participants from UHDB to the study
• To disseminate research findings with the research team at schools, ‘soapbox science’ and charity events, regional clinical/scientific meetings, international conferences and through the preparation of manuscripts
• To report annual summaries and research findings to the study funders: the Oracle Cancer Trust and participate in outreach activities as required

How to apply

For more information and to apply, please visit the website:

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