Are you a ...

As part of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Academic Training Programme, the intercalated PhD (iPhD) Programme is funded between Imperial College London and The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

 

This iPhD will train clinical academics to work on multidisciplinary projects that bring together cancer research and the engineering and physical sciences. It is intended for outstanding undergraduate students on the MBBS/BSc degree course and offers the opportunity to include an intercalated PhD as part the course. The PhD consists of 3 years research to be undertaken after the successful completion of the intercalated BSc (iBSc) in year 4 of the MBBS degree. Trainees will re-enter undergraduate medical education at year 5 after the completion of the PhD training.

Timeline showing where phd fits in medical degree

What is available?

The iPhD is fully funded, inclusive of a generous tax-free fixed stipend (£21,000 per annum), tuition fees for UK students and the cost for undertaking research. Overseas students are also eligible; however, they should discuss other options to support the difference in international fees with prospective supervisors. The offer doesn’t end there, Cancer Research UK is also committed to underwriting the undergraduate tuition fees for years 1-4 of UK students who successfully apply to this programme. The NHS will cover tuition fees for years 5 and 6.

Are you the right candidate?

If you are a year 4 medical student registered at Imperial this opportunity is for you. We welcome interest from students applying to any of the iBSc pathways. However, the opportunity to complete the research component of the iBSc year in cancer research will exist for those applying for the Cancer Frontiers pathway and in convergence science through the Biomedical Engineering pathway. You may also be able to be able to undertake a cancer-related project in some of the other iBSc pathways; however, all will give you a strong understanding of life in a research environment. 

 

What are the benefits of undertaking the iPhD in cancer?

 

World class training

You will be trained by world leading experts in cancer biology, engineering and physical sciences at Imperial and the ICR. This will enable you to acquire a broad skill set and learn the language of multiple disciplines.

 

High-quality research outputs

With a range of outputs spanning research publications, presentations at relevant conferences and translation of your research for patient benefit, the iPhD will provide the grounding for your future success as a clinical academic.

 

Dedicated mentorship

You will receive tailored mentorship from clinically qualified cancer researchers who will provide guidance on successfully navigating the PhD years, becoming a clinical academic and establishing a successful career in oncology.

 

 

We asked a selection of our supervisors their thoughts on convergence science, their philosophy to mentoring, what attributes they are looking for in a convergence science student, and what key factors prospective students should consider when choosing a PhD. We also asked a selection of our current students what attracted them to this field, their experience of the programme so far, and what their aspirations are for the future. Click here to read perspectives from our current supervisors and students.

Research projects - starting in July 2021

Below are examples of iPhD projects that have been offered by the Centre.

 


Supervisors:

Jun Ishihara (Imperial)
Paul Huang (ICR)

 

Proposal summary

Checkpoint inhibitors (CPI) are effective only in a minority of cancer patients. In particular, it has been shown that tumours with few infiltrating immune cells do not respond to CPI therapy. One of the key factors that modulates immune cell infiltration is the tumour matrisome. The Huang lab has developed technology to accurately profile the tumour matrisome while the Ishihara lab has engineered a new class of targeted cancer immunotherapies with enhanced efficacy compared to currently available CPIs. We hypothesize that these new immunotherapies dynamically remodel the tumour matrisome which ultimately impacts the immune microenvironment. In this project, we will utilise next generation proteomic strategies in combination with novel protein engineering approaches to understand the impact and consequence of targeted cancer immunotherapy on the matrisome and immune stroma and engineer novel matrix-targeted cancer immunotherapies with optimised drug delivery and efficacy for precision cancer medicine.

 

The supervisors and work environment

The team includes the bioengineering (Dr Ishihara) and cancer biology/systems biology (Dr Huang) expertise of two world leading researchers. The student will have access to the cutting edge research environment at the ICR and Imperial.

 

 

Supervisors:

Mengxing Tang (Imperial)
Emma Harris (ICR)
Gabriela Kramer-Marek (ICR)

 

Project summary

This proposal will deliver advances in molecular ultrasound imaging for the purpose of early detection of cancer and cancer management. We will address the urgent clinical need for an accurate and cost-effective tool to detect ovarian cancer, however, the findings and methods developed will be applicable to other cancer sites, for example, breast. Over 6000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK alone: over 50% of these women have late
stage cancer (stage 3 or 4); in 20% of these women late diagnosis prevents them from receiving treatment. Current diagnostic tools, including imaging methods, lack the sensitivity and specificity to reliably detect ovarian cancer.

Molecular ultrasound is an exciting new imaging modality which has the potential to overcome poor sensitivity and specificity of conventional ultrasound. Ultrasound contrast agents (UCA) are micrometre sized gas bubbles which are injected into the vasculature. These microbubbles boost the ultrasound signal and recently have enabled novel super-resolution and microvascular flow ultrasound imaging both of which have been pioneered by the Ultrasound Lab for Imaging and Sensing (ULIS, Bioengineering, ICL). Using ultrafast imaging, single microbubbles can be localised and tracked, allowing us to precisely map the tumour microvasculature. More recently nanoscale UCA have been developed. Unlike microbubbles, nanoscale UCA can take advantage of the enhanced permeability and retention of (EPR) of tumour vasculature and extravasate which opens up exciting possibilities for targeting molecules that are overexpressed by cancer cells. We propose that combination of ovarian cancer specific nanoscale UCA and high-sensitivity high resolution ultrasound imaging is the key to early detection of ovarian cancer and will provide a tool that can be used in the context of screening, and more appropriate surgical treatment of women with suspicious/indeterminate ovarian masses, leading to less delays and better survival outcome.

 

The supervisors and work environment

The successful candidate will work within ULIS (Professor Tang) and the Centre of Cancer Imaging at ICR (Dr. Harris and Dr. Kramer Marek) to develop imaging methodologies and novel targeted nanoscale UCA to explore and validate molecular imaging biomarkers of ovarian cancer both in vitro and in vivo in models of ovarian cancer. The student will also work closely with Professor Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami a Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist (ICL) and specialist in surgical techniques to maximise the clinical translation of the outcomes of this PhD.

 

 

 

Supervisors:

Robert O.J. Weinzierl (Imperial)
Louis Chesler (ICR)

 

Project summary

Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer that develops during early embryonic development, affecting 1 in 7,000 children, and it is a major cause of death in children with cancer. MYCN, (a cell-type specific version of the more common oncoprotein c-MYC) is a transcription factor whose overexpression drives the genesis and ongoing growth of neuroblastomas. Amplification of MYCN is very common in neuroblastoma and is clinically associated with aggressive disease and poor survival. Identifying drugs that interfere with MYCN function is an obvious but as incompletely realised therapeutic choice. This is hampered by the fact that the functional domains of MYCN are intrinsically disordered (i.e. do not take up a define 3-D structure). This complicates traditional structural and biochemical methods to identify suitable drug-binding pockets. Recent developments in understanding the structure and function of c-MYC, based especially on applying high- performance molecular dynamic modelling, are likely to be directly transferable to understanding MYCN in more detail. This project will provide new opportunities to develop specific biochemical assays to quantitate a number of distinct functions of MYCN. These assays can be adapted directly into high-throughput platforms for screening small molecule drugs that modulate MYCN and may form the basis of effective drug treatments in patients.

 

The supervisors and work environment

The successful candidate will work across Imperial and the ICR and will have access to the world leading research infrastructure of both institutions. Training will be provided in cancer research by Professor Louis Chesler, a clinical academic who specialises in childhood cancer and Dr Robert Weinzierl who is a principal investigator in molecular biology.

 

 

Supervisors:

Julia Murray (The Royal Marsden)
Alex Thompson (Imperial)
George Mylonas (Imperial)
Julian Jones (Imperial)

 

Project summary

ProSpareTM is a novel single-use, self-insertable rectal obturator which has been developed and evaluated at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden Hospital in partnership with Sussex Development Services LLP. We are currently evaluating the role of ProSpareTM in patients having pelvic radiotherapy after their prostate has been removed. Within the device are radio- opaque markers which we use to guide the radiotherapy and venting holes and line to allow rectal gas to escape. At the moment our approach with this device is “one size fits all”. However, some patients are unable to tolerate the insertion of the device into their rectum and in those that are able to tolerate, the accuracy in positioning of the device could be improved.

 

This project will test the hypothesis that changing the material and personalising the rectal obturator in terms of shape and size will improve tolerability, localising and stabilising ability. Within this project, the first aim will be to evaluate biocompatible materials for the development of a rectal obturator and this will include reviewing the properties of medically approved materials and then using a phantom to test their suitability for use in radiotherapy. The second aim will then be to establish the feasibility of personalising the shape of the rectal obturator using 3D printing and other methods. Review of MRI and CT images of patients who were and were not able to tolerate the insertion of ProSpareTM will be undertaken. During this review, structural points and regions of interest for influencing the shape and size of the rectal obturator will be determined. This information will then be used with 3D design software to model and fabricate personalised rectal obturators. The final aim of the project will be to determine and optimise the functionality of the rectal obturator. This will be assessed in a feasibility clinical trial to evaluate the tolerability and effects on inter- and intra- fraction motion. Additionally, a review of the available sensing techniques will be undertaken and an evaluation of their need and applicability in radiotherapy established. Finally, integration of sensing technologies into a prototype, smart rectal obturator will also be explored.

 

The supervisors and work environment

The team includes the engineering and biomaterial expertise available at the Hamlyn Centre and Prof Julian Jones lab respectively (Imperial) with the clinical radiotherapy team at the ICR. This project explores the methodology to develop a personalised rectal obturator for pelvic radiotherapy to achieve endpoints beneficial to patients.

 

 

 

Supervisors:

Simon Schultz (Imperial)
Louis Chesler (ICR)

 

Project summary

This project will combine advanced techniques in neural progenitor and induced pluripotential cell culture for medulloblastoma (ICR) and in neurodifferentiation techniques, with novel multiphoton cellular imaging technology (Dept of Bioengineering, Imperial) to interrogate the consequences of targeted genetic and pharmacologic N-Myc inhibition in organoid and minibrain systems.

 

Aim 1: We will use SHH-subgroup medulloblastoma organoids and minibrain cultures derived from fetal hindbrain and iPS reprogramming, which have been genetically edited to overexpress N-MYC, together with 2-photon imaging to assess the degree to which a clinical-candidate NMYC inhibitor (fadraciclib, JCI, in press) can inhibit proliferation of tumour-generating stem-cells in MB. The student will learn cutting edge technology in stem cell culture, cancer stem cell biology,
cellular imaging, and quantitative data analysis, establishing an optimized model with which to advance medulloblastoma therapeutic assays.

 

Aim 2: We will apply novel medicinal chemistry screens in-place at ICR to prioritise clinicalcandidate N-MYC innibitors guided by 2-photon imaging readouts that quantitate degree of differentiation and expansion of clonal neural stem-cells. If technically feasible, this will be extended to the in vivo setting for preclinical validation of candidate therapeutics. The student will learn how to apply and interpret 2-photon imaging technologies using in vivo cancer models, with a view towards prioritisation/selection of a clinical candidate cancer drug.

 

The supervisors and work environment

The team includes the bioengineering (Prof. Schultz) and cancer biology (Prof. Chesler) expertise of two world leading researchers. The student will have access to the cutting-edge research environment at the ICR and Imperial.

 

 

Supervisors:

Danny O’Hare (Imperial)
Jia Li  (Imperial)
Sylvain Ladame (Imperial)

 

Proposal summary

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer worldwide. In addition to host genetic factors, mountainous evidence suggested that the altered gut microbial composition and functions are associated with CRC. The human gut is colonized by trillions of microbes, which affect human wellbeing in a complex manner. Although much is now known regarding the identities of the gut microbiome, their functional roles in modulating the disease risk remain largely untangled. A few mechanisms through which the gut microbiota interacts with the host in CRC have been proposed,
such as chronic inflammation, increased oxidative stress (e.g. increased nitric oxide levels) and microRNAs (small endogenous non-coding RNAs from 18–25 nucleotides that control gene expression). However, the causal link between the microbial function and CRC remain unclear. There is a crucial need to further investigate the microbe-colon interactions that occur via microbial metabolites, microRNAs and inflammation, and to discover the mechanisms underlying this crosstalk.

 

Enterobacteriaceae are Gram-negative bacteria and generally present in very low densities (<<108 cfu/g) in the normal colon. However, host-mediated inflammation promotes the growth of Enterobacteriaceae, and has also been shown to be also associated with an increased colon cancer risk. For example, in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) increased levels of gut Enterobacteriaceae and a 5-fold increase in colon cancer incidence are observed. While several studies have shown that Enterobacteriaceae can promote colon cancer, little mechanistic information is reported. Therefore, we hypothesize that certain metabolites, such as amines, produced by Enterobacteriaceae family, promote CRC through an axis of bacterial metabolitesmicroRNA-inflammation. A range of novel biosensor and bioanalytical (e.g. metabolomics) approaches will be developed with a view to characterise cellular metabolic, inflammatory and microRNA responses to bacterial metabolites in a time- and dose-dependent fashion.

The project will further our understanding in gut bacteria-colon interactions and provide crucial evidence for the causal link between the gut bacteria and CRC. The biomarkers of the cellular responses identified in the project could potentially contribute to CRC risk evaluation and diagnosis. The project will provide the PhD student with multidisciplinary training including biosensor technology, metabolomics and basic cell biology techniques.

 

The supervisors and work environment

The team includes the bioengineering (Drs O’Hare and Ladame) and microbiome (Dr Li) expertise of two world leading researchers. The student will have access to the cutting-edge research environment across multiple Imperial faculties.

 

 

Supervisors:

Sylvain Ladame (Imperial)
Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami (Imperial)

 

Proposal summary

Current tests for the diagnosis and prognosis of endometrial cancer are highly invasive (requiring tissue biopsies) and therefore unsuitable for widespread public screening. Recent studies have highlighted the potential of circulating cell-free nucleic acids (cfNA) as minimally invasive diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for various cancer types, including endometrial. Among them, microRNAs (or miRs), short non-coding RNA fragments involved in regulatory mechanisms
of gene expression and whose expression is often deregulated in Cancer patients, hold the greatest promise. The main challenges with current miRNA sensing strategies relate to the naturally low abundance of these biomarkers in bodily fluids and high sequence homology between fragments. Besides, most available technologies cannot detect such biomarkers directly from whole blood and require heavy sample processing, which is costly, time consuming and can
be a major source of error in the absence of standardised protocols. This represents a major limiting factor for the discovery and clinical validation of robust miRNA biomarkers and for the development of new diagnostic test based on the detection of these biomarkers and suitable for use at the point-of-care.

 

This proposal addresses both challenges by (1) developing a medium to high-throughout screening platform for biomarker discovery directly from blood plasma and applied to the identification of molecular signatures based on miR expression profiles for diagnosis and longitudinal monitoring of endometrial Cancer and (2) developing a paper-based minimally invasive test for early diagnosis of endometrial Cancer at the point-of-care and that is also suitable for public screening.

The supervisors and work environment

This will be made possible thanks to a multidisciplinary collaboration between two research groups with combined expertise in biosensor development (Dr Ladame, Department of Bioengineering, Imperial) and clinically relevant biomarker discovery and clinical management of endometrial cancer (Prof. Ghaem-Maghami, Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial). Whilst the technology development will take place in the Ladame lab, based in the newly open Michael Uren Hub (White City Campus), the clinical testing and sample collection will be under the supervision of Prof. Ghaem-Maghami in IRDB at the Hammersmith Hospital Campus.

 

 

Supervisors:

Molly Stevens (Imperial)
Anguraj Sadanandam (ICR)

 

Project summary

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) accounts for nearly the 80% of all the pancreatic tumours. Its dismal outcome (survival rate below 5% at 10 years) goes along with the constantly increasing incidence rate and lack of effective treatments especially for late stages. This scenario is further worsened by recent findings that identified three to four different subtypes of human PDAC. Although these subtypes have distinct characteristics, there are no biomarkers
that can robustly stratify PDAC tumours into these subtypes. Therefore, it is evident that novel approaches to (early) detect PDAC is highly needed. For this project we are proposing to identify specific proteases, unique for each PDAC subtype, by using transcriptomic and proteomic profiles of primary patient PDAs, human PDAC cell lines and 13+ mouse GEM tumours already existing at the Sadanandam lab. Those significant proteases from transcriptome and proteome will be further explored for prognostication and other clinical outcomes such as grade and stage using the receiver operating characteristics curve analysis. Finally, these candidates will be validated using prospectively collected PDAC samples by immunohistochemistry.

 

A small library of different cleavable peptides will be developed for each selected protease. At this stage both the protease activity and the peptide sequence need to be validated in order to develop active bioresponsive nanosensors. FRET peptide substrate-cleavage assay screen will be used to identify the best candidates by selecting substrates specific to the candidate proteases. Bioresponsive nanosensors will be then synthetised by associating ultrasmall gold nanoclusters to the selected peptides previously biotinylated. Such gold nanoclusters will be further coupled to neutravidin. The neutravidin complexes will also be tested with size exclusion filters to prove that such complexes will be active and exclude steric impediment between the peptide and the catalytic ultrasmall gold nanoclusters (AuNCs). The nanoclusters will be finally tested in vitro using subtype specific PDAC cell lines from human and mouse, and fluorescence assay. The nanocluster library for subtype-specific proteases will be further tested in vivo using xenogeneic and/or syngeneic models that represent different subtypes of PDAC. The bioresponsive nanoclusters will be injected intravenously and they will disassemble only when exposed to the activity of the relevant dysregulated proteases at the site of disease. After protease cleavage, the liberate AuNCs will be filtered through the kidneys and into urine, where they could be detected by an easy colourimetric assay.

 

The supervisors and work environment

You will work in the laboratories of Professor Molly Stevens who is an expert in regenerative medicine and biomedical materials and Dr Anguraj Sadanandam who is a leader in testing and identifying new cancer therapeutics. Further, you will be exposed to the world class research infrastructure across Imperial and the ICR.

 

 

Supervisors:

Anguraj Sadanandam (ICR)
Jun Ishihara (Imperial)

 

Project summary

Our goal is to create an effective and personalised immunotherapy against pancreatic cancer, which is known as one of the most difficult cancer types to cure and is a cancer type with highest mortality rate. Pancreatic cancer is unresponsive to cancer checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy due to few numbers of tumour-infiltrating immune cells and high collagen expression. Ishiahra previously found that collagen binding domain protein specifically accumulates within the tumour vasculature (but not within healthy vasculature) after intravenous injection. Ishihara created collagen binding cytokine, small chemical and chemokine which can specifically recruit immune cells into tumour.

 

Sadanandam lab has defined different cancer, fibroblast or immune subtypes using patient pancreatic cancer samples, and developed 18+ syngeneic mouse models to study immunotherapy in this cancer types. Our hypothesis is that collagen binding domain can target specific subtypes of pancreatic cancer well, and pancreatic cancer can be induced to become immune “hot” using the collagen binding cytokines or chemotherapy such that checkpoint inhibitor therapy will be effective.

 

The student will analyse immune cells and molecular mechanisms after collagen binding cancer therapy. Then the pancreatic cancer models (both human and mouse) from Sadanandam lab’s repository to be classified to the potential therapies. We believe that this approach could be applicable for other cancer types to create tumour targeted and personalised therapy and can be an innovative way for effective and safe cancer medicine.

The supervisors and work environment

You will work in the laboratories of Dr Anguraj Sadanandam who is a leader in testing and identifying new cancer therapeutics and Dr Jun Ishihara who is an expert in protein engineering. The combination of their distinct yet complementary skills-sets will provide training in bioengineering and cancer research. Further, you will be exposed to the world class research infrastructure across Imperial and the ICR.

 

 

Supervisors:

Philip Miller (Imperial)
Gabriela Kramer-Marek (ICR)
Sam Au (Imperial)

 

Project summary

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common primary malignant brain tumour in adults and is associated with an extremely aggressive clinical course and poor prognosis. GBM is an area of unmet clinical need owing its very poor clinical outcomes and lack of successful treatments currently available. Novel and innovative methods to speed-up and facilitate the discovery of new treatments for GBM are therefore urgently needed. This project aims to exploit tumour-on-chip
technology to facilitate in vitro selection of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) tracers that specifically target the transmembrane fibroblast activation protein-alpha (FAP), a prominent cancer associated fibroblast marker. The role of FAP within the GBM microenvironment is still unclear and therefore presents opportunities to better understand its role and will ultimately lead to improved imaging and therapies.

 

The supervisors and work environment

This project brings together a supervisory team from three different disciplines and departments (Miller chemist/radiochemist), Au (microfluidics/tumour on a chip) and Kramer-Marek (PET biology and cancer imaging) to develop tumour-on-chip technology for the discovery of new imaging agents and therapeutics targeting GBM. Further, you will be exposed to the world class research infrastructure across Imperial and the ICR.

 

 

Supervisors:

Sam Au (Imperial)
Paul Huang (ICR)

 

Project summary

Tumour cell migration is key behaviour in metastasis as cells disseminate from primary and invade distant organs. The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a complex three-dimensional milieu containing structural proteins, proteoglycans and bound growth factors & enzymes that regulate migration. Tumour cell migration through matrix is further complicated by the fact that individual components can have both migration-inhibiting and migration-promoting functions. For instance, collagen physically obstructs migration until it is degraded by matrix metallinoproteineases but also serves to enhance migration by promoting integrin-mediated cell adhesion. Importantly, the competing role of collagen in this process is dependent upon both its concentration and organisation. While many studies have been conducted on the role of collagen in migration, we still have a poor understanding of the role of other ECM proteins on tumour cell migration.

 

In this project we three distinct aims.

 

1. We will characterisatise the biochemical and biophysical properties of patient lung metastases to identify how their ECM differs from healthy tissue.

 

2. We will develop a novel migration-on-chip microfluidic platform capable of generating 3D ECM consisting components with defined concentration gradients, opposing gradients of multiple components, fiber alignment and defined matrix stiffness gradients. We will rely on the diffusiondominated laminar flow regime inherent to microscale flows to accomplish this.

 

3. We will investigate the influence of tumour matrix composition and biophysics on cell migration directionality and speed by recording the migration of tumour cells through hydrogels using timelapse live-cell microscopy. These aims will rapidly accelerate our understanding of migration in metastasis and may allow us devise interventions that inhibit this process.

 

The supervisors and work environment

The Huang Lab (ICR) specialises in soft tissue sarcomas and lung cancers and has ready access to patient samples and expertise in ECM characterisation. The Au Lab (Imperial) is a bioengineering group that specialises in the development of organ-on-chip and tumour-on-chip microfluidic devices for studying cancer metastasis. These platforms hold numerous advantages over traditional in vitro methods for this project including: a) ability create well-defined concentration gradients within hydrogels, b) ability to precisely control the organisation and alignment of ECM components, c) compatibility with time-lapse live-cell imaging in 3D and d) ability to sustain the viability of ex vivo tissue. The integration of the skillsets in these labs make us uniquely capable of answering these important questions which may one day lead to interventions that can subvert tumour cell migration and metastasis. Further, you will be exposed to the world class research infrastructure across Imperial and the ICR.

 

 

Supervisors:

Ali K. Yetisen (Imperial)
Louis Chesler (ICR)

 

Project summary

Neuroblastoma is a malignancy that arises during early development, affecting 1 in 7,000 children, where the highest incidence is within the first 3 years of life. This project aims to create a point-of- care diagnostic device that will detect a signature associated with aberrant MYCN activity, and specifically, N-Myc protein, in blood to screen for early-stage progressive neuroblastoma. A lateral-flow device will be developed and calibrated in plasma samples (1 mL) obtained from patients on active treatment with fadraciclib (targeting MYCN) and then within our neuroblastoma relapse surveillance clinics where neuroblastoma recurrence is typically common and finally, in saliva, where concentration of N-Myc are anticipated to be more challenging to measure. Finally, the assay will be evaluated within the context of primary detection, where incidence of disease is low and primary detection is a challenge in children. Lateral- flow assays represent a qualitative (yes/no answer) platform to develop an oncogene detection technology. This project will involve developing a lateral-flow device to sample and analyse a N-Myc protein in blood, guided by published knowledge of impact of MYCN on metabolism.

 

Objective 1: N-Myc protein concentration will be measured in patients with relapsed neuroblastoma prior to and post-treatment with fadraciclib. The measured N-Myc protein concentration values with will be benchmarked with data on quantitation of MYCN nucleic acids. The objective is to create an anti-n-Myc/MYCN antibody assay to test signature-Myc protein selectively and sensitively in blood for primary early detection in normal children. This lateral-flow assay will operate based on the principles of ELISA. The lateral-flow assay will consist of a conjugate pad, where the target molecule (MYCN signature) will be tagged by anti-n-Myc/MYCN conjugated gold nanoparticles. The reaction matrix will consist of a test and control lines. If the assay is positive, the gold nanoparticles will be immobilised on the test line.

 

Objective 2: the assay will be used to evaluate plasma samples obtained from patients with known recurrence risk for neuroblastoma in remission, and then when they relapse. The third objective is to assess the assay performance in relapsing patients in saliva or other biofluids. This project will result in an in vitro diagnostic platform to provide qualitative screening of earlystage neuroblastoma. The ability to screen rapidly oncogenes in blood and other body will enable timely and effective diagnosis of progressive malignancies in neuroblastoma and reduce hospitalisation costs in the NHS paediatric oncology services.

 

The supervisors and work environment

You will be exposed to the world class research infrastructure across Imperial and the ICR. Professor Louis Chesler is a leading clinical academic in the understanding of childhood cancers and Dr Ali Yetisen is an expert in developing sensor, materials and devices for medical diagnostics.

 

 

Supervisors:

Periklis Pantazis (Imperial)
Victoria Salem (Imperial)
Christopher Peters (Imperial)

 

Project summary

Photodynamic therapies (PDT) offer particular efficacy in cancer prevention and palliative treatment for patients with multimorbidity, requiring targeted therapies with minimal toxicity. PDT uses a light sensitive drug (photosensitiser, PS). After administration, the target tissue is exposed to light of a specific wavelength, which activates the PS to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) that trigger cell death.

 

Here we propose a potential game changer with the Pantazis Lab’s invention of novel, highly targeted bioharmonophores-PS conjugates for PDT applications which offer several advantages:

 

1. Bioharmonophores can be activated by two-photon absorption (TPA) in the nearinfrared/infrared (NIR/IR) range. Conjugated to a PS, they can provide spatially restricted PDT at much greater tissue penetration depth, since tissue is much more transparent to IR radiation.

 

2. Bioharmonophores can be directly surface conjugated to numerous biological compounds which offers precise targetability.

 

3. Bioharmonophores consist of polymer-encapsulated, self-assembling peptides that are biodegradable and therefore non-toxic.

 

In brief your PhD will consist of three complimentary strands:

1. You will work with the Oesophageal Cancer Clinical and Molecular Stratification biobank to develop an oesophageal cancer cell line/organoid that can be used to develop the therapeutic potential of bioharmonophore PDT.
2. You will work with bioengineers to develop highly targeted bioharmonphore-PS conjugates.
3. You will use state of the art imaging techniques to establish pre-clinical evidence for efficacy.

The supervisors and work environment

This project offers an ambitious iPhD candidate several competitive advantages and key skills as a future clinician scientist:

 

1. You will be co-supervised by three dynamic and experienced supervisors who come from complementary backgrounds: Dr Pantazis is a Reader in Advanced Optical Precision Imaging and will provide overarching supervision in the development of bioharmonphorePS conjugates for PDT, Dr Salem is a clinician scientist with experience in managing cell lines and tumour models in mice as well as state-of-the-art in vivo imaging platforms, and Mr Peters is an academic surgeon who is lead for oesophageal cancer at Imperial. All three manage vibrant research groups and will help you develop broader skills including writing and presenting.

 

2. The supervisors will ensure that you master several cutting-edge skills including
a. click chemistry to build targeted bioharmonophores-PS conjugates for PDT applications,
b. organoid cell culture protocols to be employed for PDT using bioharmonophoresPS conjugates,
c. advanced optical imaging methods to perform longitudinal animal models analysis upon PDT and
d. genomics and phenomics that complement imaging approaches to develop personalised PDT approaches using bioharmonophores-PS conjugates.

 

 

 

The application and recruitment process

 

Stage 1: Review project opportunities

Imperial and ICR academics submit research project summaries; the purpose of the submission is to showcase the research opportunities that are available for prospective students. A list of project summaries can be found on this page in October of each year.

 

Stage 2: Project selections

Students commencing the iBSc year review the project summaries and identify 3 projects that they would like to undertake if interested to do a PhD. After review, your top 3 preferences should be submitted to the Programme Manager. The project supervisors will be informed of the students wish to undertake their projects and will arrange meetings with you to discuss the opportunity with them. 

 

Stage 3: Proposal development

After meeting with the supervisors, students will rank their preferred project in order of 1 to 3 and submit rankings. Your preferred choice for supervisor will be informed, and should they agree, you will work with them as a partner between January and April to develop a comprehensive PhD project proposal. The proposal will be reviewed by a panel of experts who will make judgements on scientific quality and suitability for a PhD.

 

Stage 4: Interviews

Finally, an interview will be arranged for shortlisted students, which will include the student and supervisory team, to explore a) the quality, suitability and feasibility of the project for a PhD, b) the support provided by the supervisory team and c) the motivations of the student to undertake a PhD.

 

If you are unsuccessful in gaining your top choice of project, your second choice will also be made available to you

 

When do I need to decide if I want to take on a PhD?

Flexibility underpins the iPhD Programme; we are cognisant that not all students will immediately decide to do research. Therefore, the opportunity also extends to students who may become enthusiastic about scientific research during their 15-week iBSc research project which usually starts in January. At this stage students could either submit a proposal with your iBSc project supervisor providing it is in an area of cancer research (this project could be an extension of the iBSc research) or ask to review a list of available projects. Students would then follow the ranking process as outlined in stage 3 and work with the supervisors to build a full PhD proposal for submission in April.

 

Further information

For more information on this opportunity send an email to Dr Garrick Wilson (garrick.wilson@imperial.ac.uk).

Time lapse image of an aggressive breast cancer cell sensing its environment through focal adhesions
Training the next

generation of

convergence scientists

As part of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Academic Training Programme, the intercalated PhD (iPhD) Programme is funded between Imperial College London and the Institute of Cancer Research, London.

 

This iPhD will train clinical academics to work on multidisciplinary projects converging cancer research and the engineering and physical sciences. It is intended for outstanding undergraduate students on the MBBS/BSc degree course and offers you the opportunity to include a PhD as part of your course. The PhD consists of 3 years research to be undertaken after the successful completion of the intercalated BSc (iBSc) in year 4 of the MBBS degree. Students will re-enter undergraduate medical education at year 5 after the completion of the PhD training.

 

Timeline showing where phd fits in medical degree

What is available?

The iPhD is fully funded for UK medical undergraduate students who have undertaken an intercalated BSc at the Imperial medical school - which is typically around 340 students each year. Funding supports a tax-free stipend, home fees and consumables costs. Overseas students are also eligible; however, before offers can be made, you must secure support for the difference in international fees.

The application and recruitment process

 

Stage 1: Supervisor connections

This is a meeting designed to build cross-institutional supervisory teams and to showcase the breath of engineering and physical science expertise at Imperial, and the cutting-edge cancer research undertaken at the ICR. Supervisors attending this meeting will e given the opportunity to present their research to help connect and integrate approaches in the creation of a preliminary iPhD proposal. It is usually held in the summer of each year. If you are an ICR or Imperial supervisor and you are interested in attending one of our future meetings, please email Dr Garrick Wilson (Garrick.wilson@imperial.ac.uk).

 

Stage 2: Preliminary PhD proposals

The preliminary application stage is to showcase the types of research projects available to prospective students. Prior to showcasing, the proposals will be reviewed by the Clinical Academic Training Subcommittee to ascertain whether they meeting the remit (cancer-lead and taking a convergence science approach) of this programme. Proposals in remit will be showcased in October each year.

 

Stage 3: Establishing student-supervisor teams

The medical undergraduates will review the preliminary proposals and select up to three projects that they would like to undertake if interested to do a PhD. The supervisor will be notified, and meeting will be arranged to discuss the opportunity informally. After meeting with the supervisor, students will submit their preferred choices of project/supervisor. Subject to agreement by the supervisor - both parties will work as partners to develop and submit a comprehensive PhD proposal

 

Stage 4: Interviews

An interview with the Clinical Academic Training Subcommittee will be arranged for the candidate, which will include the student and supervisor team to explore the quality, suitability, feasibility, support provided by the supervisory team, and the motivation of the candidate student. Decisions are usually made in May with the commencement of the iPhD in July

 

Further information

For more information on this exciting opportunity send an email to Dr Garrick Wilson (garrick.wilson@imperial.ac.uk)

 

Convergence Science PhD Supervisor Code of Practice
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Training the next generation of convergence scientists

Training the next generation of convergence scientists