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Self-funded BMS project: Resurrecting ancestral human sugars: a novel approach to cancer immunotherapy


   York Biomedical Research Institute


About the Project

Human cell surfaces are coated in a thick layer of sticky sugars [Glycocalyx]. Uniquely, cancer cells are covered with an excess of a sialic acid sugar (Neu5Ac), acting as ‘camouflage’ to avoid the immune system. The aim of the project is to develop original biological tools to revert this camouflage by resurrecting an ancestral sugar, in a strategy that could lead to a novel and more efficient "molecular archaeology" approach to cancer immunotherapy.

This highly interdisciplinary project will allow you to develop skills in glycobiology and mammalian cell biology, working as an integrated member of both Dr. Fascione’s group (Chemistry) and Dr. Signoret’s lab (Biology/HYMS).

Using chemistry, molecular biology and our novel protein bioconjugation technology, you will design cancer cell-specific gene delivery systems to re-engineer Neu5Ac into a long-lost form of this sialic acid sugar in humans, which is a known target of the immune system that could promote an anti-tumour response. You will investigate and compare efficacy of DNA versus RNA gene transfer, nanobody- vs small molecule-based delivery, and cancer-specific markers to target. Once designed, you will validate these tools testing specificity and efficacy of glycoengineering on immortalised cancer cell-lines applying biological techniques such as PCR, western blot, immunofluorescence and flow cytometry.

The York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Entry Requirements: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. 

Programme: PhD in Biomedical Science

Start Date: 1st October 2022 


Funding Notes

This is a self-funded PhD research project. Applicants need to have adequate funds to meet the costs of fees and living expenses for the duration of the PhD programme.

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