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Modelling DNA damage and repair in radiation therapy

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S McMahon
    Prof K Prise
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Radiotherapy is one of the key tools for the treatment of cancer, given to about half of patients. It is a highly effective treatment, thanks to advanced delivery technology enabling individual tumours to be precisely targeted. However, we also know that there are significant biological variations between tumours that affect how they respond to radiation, which are not currently taken into account in radiotherapy planning. This PhD will take place as part of an interdisciplinary research group seeking to develop models to help us bring our knowledge of the drivers of radiation response towards clinical applications. In particular, this project will focus on developing links between computational models describing how radiation damages DNA within individual cells, and those describing how cells attempt to repair this damage. This link is an important step in the development of new treatment strategies for cancer.

The main way radiation kills cells is through damage to DNA. The amount and type of damage depends on the dose and type of radiation delivered, and is a major determinant of whether cells survive radiation exposure. Recent advances in computational modelling tools (such as TOPAS-nBio) have enabled the prediction of the yield and type of damage caused by different types of radiation from fundamental physics, in detailed models of realistic cell nuclei. Alongside this, other models have been developed to predict how cells
respond to this damage, including models of repair, proliferation and cell death.

However, at present these models are not linked, so it is difficult to examine the full picture of radiation response. Working together with investigators in the Patrick G Johnson Centre for Cancer Research at Queen’s and collaborators as Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the successful applicant will develop tools to link these models. This will enable integrated predictions of radiation sensitivity incorporating both physical and biological effects in detail, improving our understanding of how cells respond to radiation exposures.


Candidates should have or expect to obtain a 2:1 or higher Honours degree or equivalent in a relevant physics, computational or life sciences subject.

English Language

Candidates applying from countries where the first language is not English should produce evidence of their competence through a qualification such as IELTS or TOEFL score.

The minimum recommended score for the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science is:
• IELTS score of 6.0 with not less than 5.5 in each of the four component elements of listening, reading, speaking and writing taken within the last 2 years;
• TOEFL score of 80+ (internet basted test), taken within the last 2 years, with minimum component scores of; Listening 17, Reading 18, Speaking 20, Writing 17);
• A valid Certificate of Proficiency in English grade A or B;
• A valid Certificate of Advanced English grade A; or
• A first or upper second class honours degree from a university based in the UK, Republic of Ireland or other suitably quality assured location in a country deemed by the UK Border Agency to be majority English speaking.

For a list of English Language qualifications also accepted by the School and University please see the following link:

INTO Queen’s English Language Courses offers both pre-sessional and in-sessional courses in English for academic purposes and study skills. Courses vary in length and full information can be obtained at:

Funding Notes

*FUNDING CONFIRMED – Department for the Economy (DfE) Award*

Eligibility for both fees (£4,327 for 2019/20, 2020/21 TBC) and maintenance (£15,009 for 2019/20, 2020/21 TBC) depends on the applicants being either an ordinary UK resident or those EU residents who have lived permanently in the UK for the 3 years immediately preceding the start of the studentship.

Non UK residents who hold EU residency may also apply but if successful may receive fees only.

For further details re eligibility criteria (including academic, citizenship and residency criteria) please click on the following link:


Please visit the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, website for further details about the Centre:

When applying, please choose 'MEDICINE' as your subject area/School.

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