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Synthetic Biology Based Design of Cancer Gene Therapies


   Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering


About the Project

The ability to provide patients with high-quality gene therapies is currently restricted by a number of design limitations. For example, it is difficult to i) maintain their long-term stability, ii) tailor the immune response they stimulate in the patient, and iii) ensure that the gene of interest is only expressed in the desired cell-type without off-target effects in other tissues. In addition to the challenges of product design, there are also multiple current difficulties faced in gene therapy production, particularly with respect to achieving high product qualities.

My lab is currently collaborating with biopharmaceutical companies on i) improving manufacture of mRNA and viral vector based gene therapies, and ii) re-designing gene therapy products to optimise their in vivo performance. There are multiple projects available in this area, which will utilise synthetic biology principles (design-build-test-learn) to develop novel technologies. In simple terms, ‘design’ involves bioinformatics analysis (e.g. of transcriptomic datasets), ‘build’ involves molecular biology (e.g. plasmid construction), ‘test’ involves mammalian cell culture (e.g. testing novel designs in human cell-types), and ‘learn’ involves computational modelling (e.g. learning design rules to generate improved constructs). Students join the group from diverse academic backgrounds (e.g. molecular biology, biotechnology, bioengineering, computational biology) as all required training is provided during the PhD. Students interested in joining the lab can address informal enquiries to Dr Adam Brown ().

Students will join a large group of scientists and engineers engaged in design and production of biopharmaceuticals. The University of Sheffield is a research intensive University and researchers have access to advanced research capability including biomolecular engineering and cell culture laboratories in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and a range of state-of-the-art core facilities such as bioinformatics (https://sbc.shef.ac.uk) across the University. For this project advanced training in bioinformatic analysis, cell culture technology, genetic vector design and gene expression will be provided.

Postgraduate research students are encouraged to present and publish research outcomes as frequently as possible. We anticipate that all students will participate in a national conference every year (e.g. ESACT-UK, BioProcess UK) and will also present their work at a major international conference at least once. 

PhD graduates typically find immediate employment in the large biopharmaceutical or biotechnology industry sectors or choose to perform further postdoctoral research and development in Universities or research institutions. Job opportunities are worldwide.

My research group has active collaborations with a wide range of biopharmaceutical companies in the U.K, Europe, Asia and America, providing students with the relevant expertise and knowledge for a career in either Academia or industry. This is an excellent opportunity for a postgraduate student to work on a synthetic biology project with direct bioindustrial application. Students will join an active research group (20+ members) with extensive industry-links, working at the cutting edge of biopharmaceutical development, design and manufacture. Working in our molecular biology and cell culture laboratories, equipped with up-to-date industrially-relevant technologies/equipment, students will obtain skills and capabilities that are in high-demand in both academia and the biopharmaceutical/biotechnology industry.

If you require any further information before making an application, please contact Dr Adam Brown ().

Please see this link for information on how to apply: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/cbe/postgraduate/phd/how-apply. Please include the name of your proposed supervisor and the title of the PhD project within your application.

The ideal candidate will have (or expect to obtain) a first or upper second class degree (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline such as biology, immunology, molecular biology, biochemistry, biotechnology or bioengineering. If English is not your first language then you must have an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) average of 6.5 or above with at least 6.0 in each component, or equivalent. Please see this link for further information: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/phd/apply/english-language.


Funding Notes

Students can apply for a Departmental EPSRC DTP award to begin in October 2022 (the stipend will be funded at the standard EPSRC rate for 3.5 years). Applications are also welcome from self-funded students and those that have funding secured from international governments or other agencies.

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