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Understanding how immune cells support metastasis by “de-constructing” the tumour microenvironment


Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

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Dr L Ombrato , Prof F Balkwill No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, affecting 1 in 8 women during the course of their lifetime. Despite advances in the treatment of the primary tumour, metastatic disease remains largely uncurable, highlighting urgent clinical unmet needs.

Metastases occur when cancer cells leaving the primary tumour colonise distant organs and recreate tumour growth. The capacity of tumour cells to cross-talk and “educate” the new local environment is critical to give rise metastasis. However, these interactions remain largely unknown, particularly in metastasis. I developed an innovative system where cancer cells label their “niche” by the transferring of a fluorescent protein. This local environment can now be “de-constructed” by identifying each cellular component. Importantly, these cells can be freshly isolated and deeply characterised (Ombrato et al., Nature 2019).

This project will take advantage of this tool to understand how metastatic cells “educate” immune cells to support tumour growth. This study will be performed by using a combination of flow cytometry analysis, in vitro co-culture with primary cells and bioinformatic analysis. The understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which immune cells support metastatic growth will identify new targets to study in immunotherapy.

A graduate with an interest in cancer cell biology/tumour microenvironment/immune-oncology, with or is expecting at least an upper second class honours degree in a relevant biological/biochemical subject, is required for this project involving investigating the role of immune cells in metastasis. An MSc/MRes, or laboratory experience, in a relevant area may well prove advantageous. The project will commence ideally in September 2020 and has funding for 3 years from Barts Charity. The student will be based primarily at the Barts Cancer Institute, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD), Charterhouse Square in London.

Funding Notes

The studentship includes the following funding for 3 years:

- A tax-free annual stipend of £21,000
- Tuition fees at the Home/EU rate*
- Project consumables

*If you are considered an overseas student for fee purposes, you are welcome to apply for this studentship, however you will be required to cover the difference in tuition fees.


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