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The role of cell adhesion proteins in healthy and cancerous epithelial cells

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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Dr C Ballestrem , Prof D R Garrod Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The cells’ ability to properly communicate with its environment is fundamental for the healthy development of individual organisms. However, in cancer tissues cells ignore extracelluar cues that control proliferation, differentiation and polarised tissue organisation. To sense their environment, cells use adhesion receptors that mediate either contact with the extracelluar matrix and with their neighbouring cell. These adhesion receptors are expressed on the cell surface and by transmitting vital signals to the inner of the cell ensure correct cell and tissue function. Whilst it is well known that aberrations in these receptor mediated signaling pathways can lead to cancer, the precise mechanisms that cause disease or maintain health are not clear.
In this project we aim to understand the critical signals that derive from the cells’ environment through adhesion receptors that are required for the development a healthy polarized epithelial morphology. Using state-of-the-art methodologies such as advanced fluorescence microscopy, molecular biology and biochemistry we will study how key components of the cell adhesion signalling machinery control functional cell communication and what happens when these signalling pathways become faulty.

Entry Requirements:
Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area / subject ideally with extensive practical experience (e.g. through Masters or placement study). Candidates with experience in Cell Biology are encouraged to apply.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 3 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website ( For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


(1) Environmental sensing through focal adhesions. Geiger B, Spatz JP, Bershadsky AD. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. (2009) Jan;10(1):21-33. Review

(2) Integrins and epithelial polarity. Lee JL, Streuli CH. Journal of Cell Science (2014), 1;127

(3) Distinct focal adhesion protein modules control different aspects of mechanotransduction. Ben Stutchbury, Paul Atherton, Ricky Tsang, De-Yao Wang, and Christoph Ballestrem. Journal of Cell Science (2017) May 1;130(9):1612-1624. doi: 10.1242/jcs.195362

(4) Desmosomal adhesion regulates epithelial morphogenesis and cell positioning.
Runswick SK, O’Hare MJ, Jones L, Streuli CH and Garrod DR. Nat Cell Biol (2001) Sept; 3 (9): 823-30

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