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Reprogramming the innate immune system to fight ovarian cancer

School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

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Prof M A Vickers , Prof H M Wilson No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project is one of 16 four year PhD Studentships funded by Medical Research Scotland (https://www.medicalresearchscotland.org.uk) to be delivered jointly by the named University and External Partner Organisation (EPO). The Studentship will provide the 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.

"Reprogramming the innate immune system to treat malignancy: targeting ovarian cancer" to be delivered by the University of Aberdeen [Supervisors: Professor Mark Vickers, Professor Heather Wilson and Professor Ian Stansfield (all Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen)] and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (https://www.scotblood.co.uk) [EPO supervisor: Professor John Campbell].

Many successful treatments for cancer have been developed recently by exploiting the immune system. Most of these approaches have used ‘adaptive’ immunity, leaving the potential of the more fundamental ‘innate’ immune under-researched. The latter system works mainly by eating microorganisms (‘phagocytosis’). We have discovered many aspects of this system are shared by phagocytes that eat diseased human cells. In this project, you will create chimaeric molecules that will couple the phagocytic machinery to antibodies recognising cancer cells.

This project will target ovarian cancer for several reasons. It remains a major health problem, with 4000 deaths per annum in the UK. Recurrence remains incurable with a median survival of only around two years. Importantly for our purposes, the primary route of spread is in the abdomen, so therapeutic and diagnostic taps will yield samples of both malignant cells and the surrounding, potentially phagocytic innate immune cells that we wish to study and eventually exploit. We also plan to use phagocytic cells derived from blood cells, so will collaborate with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

The overall aim of this project is to reprogram the innate immune system to phagocytose and kill ovarian cancer cells. We will explore two ways to achieve this. First, you will express a chimaeric receptor that juxtaposes the intracytoplasmic and transmembrane portions of the mannose receptor with single chain variable fragments that recognise tumour-associated antigens (TAAs) in macrophages. Second, you will engineer molecules designed to couple tumour associated antigens to the mannose receptor.

Enquiries should be sent by email to Professor Mark Vickers:
[Email Address Removed]

Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK, in a relevant subject.

Applications must be submitted online throigh the University of Aberdeen postgraduate applicant portal (https://www.abdn.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/how-to-apply-1639.php). Please select ’Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sciences’ from the list of programme options, then enter the name of the funder (Medical Research Scotland), name of supervisor(s) and project title in the space provided. A research proposal is not required when applying for an advertised PhD studentship

When submitting your online application, please also provide a CV, the contact details of 2 references (including email addresses) and a covering letter, explaining why the applicant wishes to carry out this project.

Please note, your application may be shared with the funders of this PhD Studentship, Medical Research Scotland and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

Interviews are expected to take place 3-4 weeks after the closing date for applications. In light of the current coronavirus situation, interviews may be conducted by video conference.

It is anticipated that the PhD Studentship will start in October 2020.

Funding Notes

PhD Studentship provides: an annual tax-free stipend of £17,500, increasing to £18,000 over the four years; tuition fees at UK/EU rates only; consumables; and generous travel allowance. International fees are not covered.
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