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Metabolic reprogramming in cancer: starving tumors of essential nutrients to promote cell death


   Faculty of Medicine and Health

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Leeds United Kingdom Biochemistry Cancer Biology Cell Biology Immunology Molecular Biology Medicine Pathology

About the Project

All the cells in our bodies are programmed to die. As they get older, our cells accumulate toxic molecules that make them sick. In response, they eventually break down and die, clearing the way for new, healthy cells to grow. This “programmed cell death” is a natural and essential part of our wellbeing. Every day, billions of cells die like this in order for the whole organism to continue functioning as it is supposed to.

But as with any programme, errors can occur and injured cells that are supposed to die continue to grow and divide. These damaged cells can eventually become malignant and generate tumours. In order to avoid the regular check of programmed cell death, cancer cells reprogram their metabolism so they can cheat death in order to proliferate indefinitely or resist treatment.

Cancer researchers have known for decades that tumours use a faster metabolism compared to normal cells in our body. One classic example of this is that cancer cells increase their consumption of glucose to fuel their rapid growth and strike against programmed cell death.

This means that metabolic reprogramming is pivotal to sustain cancer initiation, growth and progression. As such limiting glucose consumption in cancer cells is becoming an attractive tool for cancer treatments. However, not all cancer cell types are sensitive to the removal of glucose, and even for the cancers that are sensitive, limitation of glucose only slows down the rate of cancer progression. Therefore the identification of intracellular pathways that regulate metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells is of great interest for possible therapeutic applications.

Our group, in collaboration with Dr Concetta Bubici at Brunel University London, has conducted a series of interdisciplinary studies (Barbarulo et al., Oncogene 2013; Iansante et al., Nature Commun 2015; Lee et al., Front Cell Dev Biol. 2018) to investigate the intracellular mechanisms regulating cell survival (as opposed to apoptosis, a type of programmed cell death). In this project, we will investigate the intracellular pathways regulating the metabolic reprogramming in normal and disease conditions using cell-based techniques and mouse genetics. We will use in-vivo and ex-vivo experimental techniques to study cellular metabolism to understand the functional role of specific genes involved in the regulation of apoptosis in cancer chemoresistance in solid (liver and breast) and haematological (lymphoma and myeloma) cancers, as well as during tissue regeneration and tumour development.

You will gain experience in a broad range of molecular and cell biology techniques including: the powerful ‘gene silencing’ protocols using short-hairpin RNA approaches, lentivirus-mediated shRNA; immunoblotting, immunoprecipitation-complex-based kinase assay, co-immunoprecipitation and pulldown analyses, PCR, gel electrophoresis, ELISA, flow cytometry, drug-testing toxicity, immunohistochemistry, genotyping and in-vivo drug delivery and analyses. All techniques are well established within the laboratory.

Eligibility:

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

Candidate 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 minimum requirements are:

• British Council IELTS - score of 6.5 overall, with no element less than 6.0

• TOEFL iBT - overall score of 92 with the listening and reading element no less than 21, writing element no less than 22 and the speaking element no less than 23.

Applicants with sufficient funding must still undergo formal interview prior to acceptance in order to demonstrate scientific aptitude and English language capability.

How to apply

Applications can be made at any time. To apply for this project applicants should complete a Faculty Application form and send this alongside a full academic CV, degree certificates and transcripts (or marks so far if still studying) to the Faculty Graduate School at

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

If you have already applied for other scholarships using the Faculty Scholarship Application form this academic session you do not need to complete this form again. Instead you should email to inform us you would like to be considered for this scholarship project.

Any queries regarding the application process should be directed to

Informal enquiries about this project can be sent directly to Dr Salvatore Papa at

Laboratory website: https://papa-lab.wixsite.com/papalab

Personal website: https://medicinehealth.leeds.ac.uk/medicine/staff/668/dr-salvatore-papa


Funding Notes

This project is available immediately to both Home/EU rate applicants and International applicants who are have a sponsor or are able to self-fund their studies. Students must be able to provide the appropriate level of fees based on their fee status plus laboratory consumables costs per year. This is in addition to the provision of personal living expenses.


References

• Lee NCW, Carella MA, Papa S, Bubici C. High Expression of Glycolytic Genes in Cirrhosis Correlates With the Risk of Developing Liver Cancer. Front. Cell Dev. Biol. 6:138. (2018).
• Verzella D, Bennett J, Fischietti M, Thotakura AK, Recordati C, Pasqualini F, Capece D, Vecchiotti D, D'Andrea D, Di Francesco B, De Maglie M, Begalli F, Tornatore L, Papa S, et al. GADD45β loss ablates innate immunosuppression in cancer. Cancer Res. 78: 1275-1292 (2018).
• Iansante V, Choy PM, Fung SW, Liu Y, Chai J-G, Dyson J, Del Rio A., D’Santos C, Williams R, Chokshi S, Anders RA, Bubici C and Papa S. PARP14 promotes the Warburg effect in hepatocellular carcinoma by inhibiting JNK1-dependent PKM2 phosphorylation and activation. Nat Commun, 6: 7882 (2015).
• Bubici C and Papa S. JNK signalling in cancer: in need of new, smarter therapeutic targets. Br J Pharmacol, 171: 24-37 (2014).
• Barbarulo A, Iansante V, Chaidos A, Naresh K, Rahemtulla A, Franzoso G, Karadimitris A, Haskard DO, Papa S & Bubici C. Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase family member 14 (PARP14) is a novel effector of the JNK2-dependent pro-survival signal in multiple myeloma. Oncogene, 32: 4231-4242 (2013).

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