Postgraduate research 

Cancer Sciences PhD/iPhD

cancer sciences

Our School of Cancer Sciences is a broad-based, research intensive institution with a global reach. We span fundamental cancer biology, translational and clinical cancer research. And focus on cancer genomics and disease-specific research. Our primary goal is to deliver world-class research that can be translated to patient benefit and to provide a leading-edge environment for research and training.

  • PhD: 3-4 years full-time; 5 years part-time;
  • IPhD: 5 years full-time;

Research projects

Self-funded projects


Investigating the Colonic Microbiome – Immune Interactions to Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Supervisors: Dr Stephen McSorley and Dr Johan Vande Voorde 

Project description: Around 40% of individuals undergoing bowel screening colonoscopy have pre-malignant colorectal adenomas. Despite excising them patients remain at increased risk of further adenomas and colorectal cancer (CRC) in the future with no means of prevention available other than repeated colonoscopies.

Immune responses and infiltrates of specific subtypes of immune cells called T lymphocytes within adenomas are associated with a patient’s likelihood of future adenomas and CRC. It is unclear what drives differences in these immune responses to adenomas in the colon and ultimately outcomes.

The colonic microbiome – the variety and location of different species of bacteria, fungi and viruses within the large bowel - has been implicated in colorectal carcinogenesis including the formation of new adenomas and progression of adenomas to cancer. Furthermore, in established CRC, interaction between the microbiome and immune system is thought to impact outcomes.
This exciting PhD project will build on an existing highly annotated dataset of around 2600 patients who have undergone surveillance following polypectomy at bowel screening colonoscopy with matched tissue. The student will be involved in the prospective collection of colonic tissue and samples from patients having adenomas removed at colonoscopy. They will interrogate immune – microbiome interactions within adenoma and surrounding colonic biopsy tissue using techniques including immunohistochemistry, RNAseq, RNAscope, and state of the art spatial proteomic/transcriptomic technologies – Nanostring, GeoMx, DSP, and CosMx SMI.

The identification of specific immune system and microbiome targets associated with future adenoma risk will eventually permit drug screening and chemoprevention in a large group of high-risk patients for whom repeated colonoscopy is the only current management option.

Fees: There are no funds available for this PGR project. Applicants must have sufficient funds to pay for their support and PGR fees.

Home PGR student fee:
2024-25: GBP 4,786
2025-26: GBP 4,925
2026-27: GBP 5,068

International PGR student fee:
2024-25: GBP 30,240
2025-26: GBP TBC
2026-27: GBP TBC

To apply, please contact supervisors and include project title in application. 


IPhD self-funded projects (November-April)

Our Integrated PhD combines an MSc and PhD project in a 1+3+1 format.
You can select from the below projects and indentify your chosen MSc from the options listed on the project.

Please note that you can apply for the below PhD projects outwith the IPhD route.


Evaluation of combination therapies targeting DNA damage repair signalling pathways in acute myeloid leukaemia

Supervisors: Heather Jorgensen, Helen WheadonXu Huang

MSc choice: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc]

Project description: Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is an aggressive cancer affecting mostly adult and elderly patients. It has a very poor 5-year survival of <20% in the UK. Oncogene driven genomic instability leads to accumulation of DNA damage; this is a key and common phenomenon in AML cells, that could be therapeutically targeted. Targeted inhibitor efficacy as single agents in clinical trials has been limited, partly due to the activation of alternative compensatory DNA damage response (DDR) pathways therefore rational combination strategies may be more appropriate.

We previously established a family of histone demethylases as critical and selective oncogenic factors in AML. Genetic knockdown or pharmacological inhibition of family members was sufficient to induce apoptosis in a broad spectrum of human AML cell lines and primary patient blasts with no effect on normal haematopoiesis, indicating leukaemia cells are more sensitive to inhibition thereby offering a potential therapeutic window.

We hypothesise that a combination treatment of DDRi with histone demethylase inhibitor may result in enhanced cytotoxic effects in human AML cells. Our preliminary data indeed show promising synergistic lethality activity with this combination in human AML cell line suspension culture. In this project we wish to further evaluate histone demethylase inhibitors as single agents or in combination with DDRi in primary patient blasts to inform future clinical trial design.

Methodology: We have a collection of individual primary AML patient samples and normal human bone marrow cells in our Glasgow biobank. An in vitro co-culture system has been established in our laboratory that mimics in vivo bone marrow microenvironment, that has been demonstrated to be a reproducible and reliable system for assessing clonal function and drug efficacy in primary AML cells. Functional assays including cell proliferation assay, cell apoptosis assay and colony formation assays will be performed. These data will be correlated with gene expression in each patient sample.


  1. To validate the efficacy of histone demethylase inhibitor monotherapy or in combination with DDRi in stratified AML patient blasts.
  2. To evaluate biomarker expression pattern in AML patient samples following single or combination treatment.


  1. ME Massett, et al (2021): A KDM4A-PAF-1-mediated epigenomic network is essential for acute myeloid leukemia cell self-renewal and survival. Cell Death Dis 12(6):573. doi: 10.1038/s41419-021-03738-0.
  2. L Monaghan, et al (2019): The emerging role of H3K9me3 as a potential therapeutic target in acute myeloid leukaemia. Front Oncol



Investigating the prognostic value of spatial immunophenotypes in lung cancer

Supervisors: Xiao FuJohn Le Quesne

MSc choice: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc]

Project description: Tumour microenvironments (TMEs) profoundly influence cancer progression and shape the response to anti-cancer therapy. Recent advances in digital pathology and innovative data analytics including machine learning have enhanced our ability to identify clinically relevant spatial characteristics of TMEs [1]. In lung cancer, several deep learning studies using Haematoxylin and Eosin (H&E) images have demonstrated that the spatial organisation of stromal and immune cell populations within the TME are relevant to tumour evolution and patient survival outcomes [2-4].

This PhD project will seek to investigate the prognostic value of spatial immunophenotypes in lung cancer combining high-plex imaging, spatial data analysis, and machine learning. One arm of the project will seek to engineer diverse quantitative features (e.g., adapting concepts and metrics from network science [5] to characterise cellular graphs) of the spatial immunophenotypes that are mapped in high-plex immunofluorescence images and evaluate their prognostic values in lung cancer. The other arm of the project will seek to develop deep learning models (e.g., adapting methods in [6]) based on spatial cellular graphs constructed from these images to predict clinical outcomes.

The research will be carried out using two comprehensively annotated cohorts of non-small-cell lung cancer patients, including LATTICe-A cohort (Leicester Archival Thoracic Tumour Investigatory Cohort- Adenocarcinoma), which comprises 1000 resected primary lung adenocarcinomas, and the Glasgow early non-small cell lung cancer cohort, which will comprise 1000 cases (including squamous cell carcinoma and other non-small cell varieties of lung cancer) upon completion next year. Several high-plex imaging methods (e.g., Vectra Polaris, PhenoCycler) will be applied to map spatial immunophenotypes, which are in addition to abundant genomic and RNA sequencing data as well as H&E images of the same tumours.
This project will be jointly supervised by Xiao Fu and John Le Quesne. The student will have an exciting opportunity to receive training in state-of-the-art imaging techniques, quantitative data analysis, and machine learning. The successful candidate will join the dynamic and collaborative research environment of the CRUK Beatson Institute, working with a diverse multidisciplinary team of computer scientists, bioinformaticians, clinicians, and experimental scientists.


  1. Fu X, Sahai E, Wilkins A. Application of digital pathology-based advanced analytics of tumour microenvironment organisation to predict prognosis and therapeutic response. J Pathol. 2023;260(5):578-591. doi:10.1002/path.6153
  2. AbdulJabbar K, Raza SEA, Rosenthal R, et al. Geospatial immune variability illuminates differential evolution of lung adenocarcinoma. Nat Med. 2020;26(7):1054-1062. doi:10.1038/s41591-020-0900-x
  3. Zhang H, AbdulJabbar K, Moore DA, et al. Spatial Positioning of Immune Hotspots Reflects the Interplay between B and T Cells in Lung Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Cancer Res. 2023;83(9):1410-1425. doi:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-22-2589
  4. Quiros AC, Coudray N, Yeaton A, et al. Mapping the landscape of histomorphological cancer phenotypes using self-supervised learning on unlabeled, unannotated pathology slides. arXiv. 2023
  5. Albert-László Barabási. Network Science. Cambridge University Press. 2016.
  6. Wu Z, Trevino AE, Wu E, et al. Graph deep learning for the characterization of tumour microenvironments from spatial protein profiles in tissue specimens. Nat Biomed Eng. 2022;6(12):1435-1448. doi:10.1038/s41551-022-00951-w



Investigating the role of autophagy and mitochondrial function in leukaemic stem cells

Supervisors: Vignir HelgasonEric Kalkman

MSc choice: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc]

Our lab is interested in biological processes that contribute to drug resistance in myeloid leukaemias, with particular focus on leukaemic stem cells (LSCs).

Introduction: Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) is caused by a reciprocal chromosomal translocation within a haemopoietic stem cell. This leads to transcription of BCR-ABL, a constitutively active tyrosine kinase that is necessary to induce CML.

The development of the tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) significantly improved the life expectancy of CML patients; however, we have shown that disease persistence is caused by the remarkable ability of CML LSCs to survive, despite complete BCR-ABL inhibition mediated by TKI treatment1,2. Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a more heterogeneous, involving different disease-causing genetic mutations. First line treatment for AML patients consists of chemotherapy, aiming at inducing remission. Generally, five-year survival rate in AML remains at a dismal 20%.

Activating internal tandem duplication mutations in FLT3 (FLT3-ITD), detected in about 20% of AML, represents driver mutations and a valid therapeutic target in AMLFLT-ITD. However, although new FLT3 inhibitors have begun to show promising clinical activity it is unlikely that they will have durable effects as single agents In recent years there has been resurgence in interest in autophagy, energy metabolism and mitochondria function as a possible area for development of novel anti-cancer agents.

We recently developed improved protocols for autophagy and metabolic assays in rare LSCs and highlighted mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) as a metabolic dependency in CML LSCs3. Primitive AML cells have also been shown to depend on increased mitochondrial respiration4,5. We will therefore further investigate mitochondrial metabolism and through validation of drug-repurposing screen, identify new clinically applicable drugs that inhibit OXPHOS in CML, and in AML where improved therapy options with acceptable toxicities are urgently needed.

Hypothesis/aims: Our working hypothesis is that autophagy and deregulated mitochondrial metabolism in LSCs renders them sensitive to inhibition of the ULK1 autophagy complex and pathways that sustain mitochondrial OXPHOS. Our first aim is to use complementary functional and omic approaches to further assess the dependency of CML/AML LSCs to recycle or oxidise major mitochondrial fuels (objective 1). Our second aim is to test ULK1 inhibitors6 and FDA-approved OXPHOS inhibitors (which we have recently identified through drug-repurposing screening), in combination with TKI treatment, for eradication of CML and AMLFLT3-ITD/TKD LSCs (objective 2).

Deliverables: This project will therefore promote identification of a core fuel pathway signature of CML/AML LSCs and a set of new potentially selective LSC-specific metabolic drug targets (objective 1). The student will also use state-of-the-art in vitro and in vivo models to test clinically relevant drugs, which will in the longer term, facilitate the translation of our findings into the clinic, with the overall aim for CML and AML LSC eradication.


  1. Holyoake, T.L., et al. Immunological reviews. 106-23 (2015).
  2. Hamilton, A., et al. Blood. 1501-10 (2012).
  3. Kuntz, E.M., et al. Nat Med. 1234-40 (2017).
  4. Skrtic, M., et al. Cancer Cell. 674-88 (2011).
  5. Lagadinou, E.D., et al. Cell Stem Cell. 329-41 (2013).
  6. Ianniciello, A., et al. Sci Transl Med. (2021)



Investigation of new therapeutic approaches to combat viral-associated cancer

Supervisor: Dr. Joanna B. Wilson

MSc choice: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc]

Background: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a human Herpesvirus that is associated with several forms of human cancer. The virus leads to a life long infection, avoiding eradication by the immune system and has evolved intriguing tricks to do this. In the lab we investigate the role of key viral genes in disease processes, their mechanism of action at the molecular level and how they perturbate the immune system. Central to this are the mechanisms by which viral proteins disrupt normal cellular processes. New insights into viral action permit an exploration into novel therapeutic approaches to combat EBV-associated cancer.

Aims: To assess the efficiency of novel treatments in killing viral infected tumour cells and to explore the mechanism of action of such drugs in targeting the function of selected viral proteins

Techniques: The project will involve the use of several molecular biological and genetical techniques to examine protein, DNA, RNA and molecular interactions, as well as immunological and cell culture methods, also high resolution imaging.


  1. AlQarni, S., Al-Sheikh, Y., Campbell, D., Drotar, M., Hannigan, A., Boyle, S., Herzyk, P., Kossenkov, A., Armfield, K., Jamieson, L., Bailo, M., Lieberman, P., Tsimbouri, P. and Wilson, J.B. (2018) Lymphomas driven by Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen-1 (EBNA1) are dependant upon Mdm2. Oncogene (in the press)
  2. Gnanasundram, S.V., Pyndiah, S., Daskalogianni, C., Armfield, K., Nylander, K. , Wilson, J.B. and Fåhraeus,, R. (2017) PI3Kd activates E2F1 synthesis in response to EBNA1-induced mRNA translation stress. Nature Communications 8:2103, doi:10.1038/s41467-017-02282-w Gao, X., Lampraki, E., Al-Khalidi, S., Qureshi, M.A., Desai, R. and Wilson, J.B. (2017) N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) ameliorates Epstein-Barr virus latent membrane protein 1 induced chronic inflammation. PLoS-ONE 12 (12) e0189167
  3. Deschamps, T., Quentin, B, Leske, D.M., MacLeod, R., Mompelat, D., Tafforeau, L., Lotteau, V., Baillie, G.S., Gruffat, H., Wilson, J.B. and Manet, E. (2017) Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Antigen 1 (EBNA1) interacts with Regulator of Chromosome Condensation (RCC1) dynamically throughout the cell cycle. J. Gen. Virol. 98:251-265 PMID:28284242
  4. Hussain, M., Gatherer, D. and Wilson, J.B. (2014) Modelling the structure of full-length Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Antigen 1. Virus Genes 49:358-372 PMID: 25011696



Mechanisms of metastasis: Defining how the sialomucin Podocalyxin drives metastatic colorectal cancer

Supervisors: David BryantOwen Sansom

MSc choices: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc] 

Summary: The majority of cancer-related deaths are associated with metastasis from the primary tumour. Cancer metastasis treatment is therefore a major unmet need in the clinic. The sialomucin Podocalyxin is a potential biomarker and molecular regulator of metastasis across a number of tumour types.

In this PhD project, the candidate will utilise a combination of cutting-edge mouse models of metastatic colorectal cancer and mini-tumour avatars in the laboratory to understand how Podocalyxin drives metastasis. This will include identification of those colorectal tumours in which Podocalyxin levels can be a biomarker to indicate which patients will have metastases, and whether function-blocking antibodies can be an effective treatment in vivo to avert metastasis. The candidate will receive outstanding training in mouse models of cancer, genetic editing and molecular analysis of cancer cells, 3-Dimensional culture techniques, and advanced live imaging and analysis. The PhD project is aimed at improving our understanding of the mechanisms of metastasis and identifying potential molecularly targeted therapies.


  1. Román-Fernández A, Mansour MA, Kugeratski FG, Anand J, Sandilands E, Galbraith L, Rakovic K, Freckmann EC, Cumming EM, Park J, Nikolatou K, Lilla S, Shaw R, Strachan D, Mason S, Patel R, McGarry L, Katoch A, Campbell KJ, Nixon C, Miller CJ, Leung HY, Le Quesne J, Norman JC, Zanivan S, Blyth K, Bryant DM. Spatial regulation of the glycocalyx component podocalyxin is a switch for prometastatic function. Sci Adv. 2023 Feb 3;9(5):eabq1858. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abq1858. Epub 2023 Feb 3. PubMed PMID: 36735782; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC9897673.
  2. Jackstadt R, van Hooff SR, Leach JD, Cortes-Lavaud X, Lohuis JO, Ridgway RA, Wouters VM, Roper J, Kendall TJ, Roxburgh CS, Horgan PG, Nixon C, Nourse C, Gunzer M, Clark W, Hedley A, Yilmaz OH, Rashid M, Bailey P, Biankin AV, Campbell AD, Adams DJ, Barry ST, Steele CW, Medema JP, Sansom OJ. Epithelial NOTCH Signaling Rewires the Tumor Microenvironment of Colorectal Cancer to Drive Poor-Prognosis Subtypes and Metastasis. Cancer Cell. 2019 Sep 16;36(3):319-336.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.ccell.2019.08.003. PMID: 31526760; PMCID: PMC6853173.



Microenvironment in paediatric and adult acute myeloid leukaemia

Supervisors: Dr Karen KeeshanProf Brenda Gibson

MSc choice: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc]

Abstract: Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a genetically and phenotypically heterogeneous disease that is characterized by a block in myeloid differentiation, as well as enhanced proliferation and survival. It affects people of all ages with an incidence of 2-3 per 100 000 per annum in children, increasing to 15 per 100 000 per annum in older adults. The relapse risk for childhood AML remains unacceptably high and relapse is the commonest cause of death. Multiple courses of chemotherapy remain the mainstay of treatment in adult and childhood AML but a ceiling of benefit has been reached and toxicity is significant (Chaudhury et al, 2015). There have been few, if any, new treatments in the past 30 years and there is a pressing need for novel effective therapies in AML.

The treatment of paediatric AML is in essence extrapolated from that of adults with AML. Our previous work (Chaudhury et al, 2015) in addition to recent timely publications (Beerman et al 2015) have questioned the appropriateness of this approach which assumes that a similar aetiology underlies AML in the young and old. There is additional evidence that disease characteristics differ between a paediatric and adult population with AML (Appelbaum 2006; Creutzig et al. 2008). Functional interplay between AML cells and the bone marrow microenvironment is a distinctive characteristic of AML disease. AML cells in the adult bone marrow BM reside in leukaemic niches (Colmone et al 2008) that support leukaemic cell survival and expansion. The importance of the microenvironment in paediatric versus adult AML (fetal liver, cord blood, bone marrow) and its role is disease characteristics has not been well explored. Our lab focuses on the proliferation and self-renewal capabilities of the leukaemic cell and the influence of the leukaemic niche. We hypothesize that the microenvironment influences the initiation, maintenance, and aggressiveness of paediatric and adult AML disease.

Methods & approaches: This project will investigate the role of the microenvironment in AML disease initiation and maintenance. We will focus on genetically distinct subtypes of paediatric and adult using a number of models and approaches including: Bone marrow transduction and transplantation (BMT) murine models: expression of AML oncogenes in viral constructs and using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing approaches; assessments on disease in vivo; Stromal co-cultures and transcriptional profiling using haematopoietic stem cells; primary AML samples from paediatric and adult patients. The project will also employ flow cytometry, cellular and molecular biology technologies. This PhD studentship offers extensive dual training in both fundamental and translational biology of leukaemia, an environment encompassing clinical and basic researchers, and training opportunities as part of the college graduate program.


  1. Chaudhury SS, Morison JK, Gibson BES, Keeshan K. Insights into cell ontogeny, age and acute myeloid leukaemia. Experimental Hematology. 2015 Jun 4.
  2. Beerman I, Rossi DJ. Epigenetic Control of Stem Cell Potential during Homeostasis, Aging, and Disease. Cell Stem Cell. 2015 Jun;16(6):613–25.
  3. Appelbaum, F.R., 2006. Age and acute myeloid leukemia. Blood, 107(9), pp.3481–3485.
  4. Creutzig, U. et al., 2008. Significance of age in acute myeloid leukemia patients younger than 30 years: a common analysis of the pediatric trials AML-BFM 93/98 and the adult trials AMLCG 92/99 and AMLSG HD93/98A. Cancer, 112(3), pp.562–571.
  5. Colmone A, Amorim M, Pontier AL, Wang S, Jablonski E, Sipkins DA. Leukemic cells create bone marrow niches that disrupt the behavior of normal hematopoietic progenitor cells. Science. 2008;322(5909):1861-1865.



Role of Mitochondrial Reprogramming in PPARG Driven Prostate Cancer

Supervisors: Imran AhmadTom MacVicar

MSc choices: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc]

Summary: Remarkable prostate cancer cell metabolic flexibility and plasticity enables tumours to grow and combat androgen therapy. Mitochondria are essential organelles that support tumour adaptation, with changes in form and function that are dynamically reprogrammed during tumorigenesis. Previous work in our group has identified the key role of the metabolic regulator PPARG in driving metastatic prostate cancer.

In this innovative PhD project, the candidate will use 3D tumour models combined with genetically engineered mouse models to investigate how mitochondria contribute to tumorigenesis and treatment resistance. The candidate will study mitochondrial reprogramming in these models with state-of-the-art compartmentalised metabolomic and proteomic techniques. These studies will improve our basic understanding of mitochondrial reprogramming in tumours and may identify novel therapeutic targets for prostate cancer.


  1. Galbraith LCA, Mui E, Nixon C, Hedley A, Strachan D, MacKay G, Sumpton D, Sansom OJ, Leung HY, Ahmad I. “PPAR-gamma induced AKT3 expression increases levels of mitochondrial biogenesis driving prostate cancer”. Oncogene 2021; doi: 10.1038/s41388-021-01707-7



Therapeutic interventions to attenuate metastasis in colorectal cancer

Supervisors: David BryantOwen Sansom

MSc choices: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc]

Summary: One of the most frequently altered pathways in human cancers is lipid signalling through PI3K (Phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase). Almost a quarter of all human cancers have mutation in PI3K or in PTEN, the phosphatase that reverses the action of PI3K. Previous work from our groups have generated genetically engineered mouse models that closely mimic patients with highly metastastic, poor outcome colorectal cancer. Additional work has identified molecular vulnerabilities in ovarian cancer downstream of PI3K pathway alteration (i.e. PTEN loss).

In this PhD project, the candidate will join a team of researchers utilise a combination of cutting-edge mouse models of metastatic colorectal cancer and mini-tumour avatars in the laboratory to understand how inhibiting this PI3K pathway may be a potential treatment to perturb tumourigenesis and metastasis. The candidate will receive outstanding training in mouse models of cancer, genetic editing and molecular analysis of cancer cells, 3-Dimensional culture techniques, and advanced live imaging and analysis. The PhD project is aimed at improving our understanding of the existing therapies to the PI3K pathway may be utilised to treat colorectal cancer and potentially lower metastatic burden in colorectal cancer.


  1. Nikolatou K, Sandilands E, Román-Fernández A, Cumming EM, Freckmann E, Lilla S, Buetow L, McGarry L, Neilson M, Shaw R, Strachan D, Miller C, Huang DT, McNeish IA, Norman JC, Zanivan S, Bryant DM. PTEN deficiency exposes a requirement for an ARF GTPase module for integrin-dependent invasion in ovarian cancer. EMBO J. 2023 Sep 18;42(18):e113987. doi: 10.15252/embj.2023113987. Epub 2023 Aug 14. PMID: 37577760; PMCID: PMC10505920.
  2. Jackstadt R, van Hooff SR, Leach JD, Cortes-Lavaud X, Lohuis JO, Ridgway RA, Wouters VM, Roper J, Kendall TJ, Roxburgh CS, Horgan PG, Nixon C, Nourse C, Gunzer M, Clark W, Hedley A, Yilmaz OH, Rashid M, Bailey P, Biankin AV, Campbell AD, Adams DJ, Barry ST, Steele CW, Medema JP, Sansom OJ. Epithelial NOTCH Signaling Rewires the Tumor Microenvironment of Colorectal Cancer to Drive Poor-Prognosis Subtypes and Metastasis. Cancer Cell. 2019 Sep 16;36(3):319-336.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.ccell.2019.08.003. PMID: 31526760; PMCID: PMC6853173.



Understanding and exploiting immunogenic cell death to treat cancer

Supervisors:  Stephen TaitEd Roberts

MSc choice: Cancer Research & Precision Oncology [MSc]

Project description: Cell death both prevents and treats cancer. New anti-cancer therapies that directly target cell death are revolutionising the treatment of cancer. Nevertheless, a major problem to effective cancer treatment is the emergence of treatment resistance. We are interested in killing cancer cells in a way that alerts the immune system to the presence of cancer - in essence harnessing the power and adaptability of tumour immunity to eradicate cancer. Our focus is on mitochondrial apoptosis - we have found that blocking caspase protease activity makes cell death immunogenic.

This PhD project will seek to understand why such caspase-inhibited cell death is immunogenic - both at the level of the dying cell but also in understanding how the immune system responds to the dying cell. We will employ novel approaches to inhibit caspase activity. In short, this exciting project will focus on discovery science with clear translation impact for cancer treatment.

The techniques it will entail will be varied but include CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing, super-resolution microscopy and in vivo modelling of cancer. This will be a collaborative project jointly supervised by Stephen Tait and Ed Roberts. You will join a young, dynamic interdisciplinary research team, based withing the CR-UK Beatson Institute with access to cutting edge technology.


  1. Targeting immunogenic cell death in cancer. Ahmed A, Tait SWG. Mol Oncol. 2020 Dec;14(12):2994-3006. doi: 10.1002/1878-0261.12851. Epub 2020 Dec 1.
  2. Mitochondrial permeabilization engages NF-κB-dependent anti-tumour activity under caspase deficiency



We are part of a national centre of excellence in the fight against cancer carrying out a programme of world-class science directed at understanding the molecular changes that cause cancer. We are working to translate scientific discoveries into new drugs or diagnostic and prognostic tools that benefit cancer patients, taking new therapies through preclinical and clinical trials.

The School of Cancer Sciences is a major component of the Cancer Research UK West of Scotland Cancer Centre. There are currently 51 research groups housed in magnificent new research buildings at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre, the CRUK clinical trials unit (CTU) and the Wolfson Wohl Cancer Research Centre. Our facilities house a number of state-of-the-art technologies that underpin our key research themes.

Individual research projects are tailored around the expertise of principal investigators within our Schools. Basic and clinical projects are also available for study.

A variety of approaches are used, including molecular biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, genetics, cancer modelling and cell biology (including advanced in vitro and in vivo imaging), immunology and polyomics (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics).

Specific areas of interest include:

  • cancer biology and cell signalling
  • epigenetics
  • cancer stem cell biology
  • cancer imaging
  • chemoresistance in cancer
  • cancer and ageing
  • regulation of cancer cell death processes
  • genetics, genomics and systems medicine 
  • immunotherapy for cancer
  • cancer clinical trials

Study options


  • Duration: 3/4 years full-time; 5 years part-time

Individual research projects are tailored around the expertise of principal investigators.

Integrated PhD programmes (5 years)

Our Integrated PhD allows you to combine masters level teaching with your chosen research direction in a 1+3+1 format. 

International students with MSc and PhD scholarships/funding do not have to apply for 2 visas or exit and re-enter the country between programmes. International and UK/EU students may apply.

Year 1

Taught masters level modules are taken alongside students on our masters programmes. Our research-led teaching supports you to fine tune your research ideas and discuss these with potential PhD supervisors. You will gain a valuable introduction to academic topics, research methods, laboratory skills and the critical evaluation of research data. Your grades must meet our requirements in order to gain entry on to your pre-selected PhD research project. If not, you will have the options to pay outstanding MSc fees and complete with masters degree only.

Years 2, 3 and 4

PhD programme with research/lab work, completing an examinable piece of independent research in year 4.

Year 5

Thesis write up.


Entry requirements

A 2.1 Honours degree or equivalent.

English language requirements

For applicants whose first language is not English, the University sets a minimum English Language proficiency level.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic module (not General Training)

  • 6.5 with no subtests under 6.0
  • Tests must have been taken within 2 years 5 months of start date. Applicants must meet the overall and subtest requirements using a single test
  • IELTS One Skill Retake accepted.

Common equivalent English language qualifications accepted for entry to this programme:

TOEFL (ibt, my best or athome)

  • 79; with Reading 13; Listening 12; Speaking 18;Writing 21
  • Tests must have been taken within 2 years 5 months of start date. Applicants must meet the overall and subtest requirements , this includes TOEFL mybest.

Pearsons PTE Academic

  • 59 with minimum 59 in all subtests
  • Tests must have been taken within 2 years 5 months of start date. Applicants must meet the overall and subtest requirements using a single test.

Cambridge Proficiency in English (CPE) and Cambridge Advanced English (CAE)

  • 176 overall, no subtest less than 169
  • Tests must have been taken within 2 years 5 months of start date. Applicants must meet the overall and subtest requirements using a single test.

Oxford English Test

  • Oxford ELLT 7
  • R&L: OIDI level no less than 6 with Reading: 21-24 Listening: 15-17
  • W&S: OIDI level no less than 6

Trinity College Tests

Integrated Skills in English II & III & IV: ISEII Distinction with Distinction in all sub-tests.

University of Glasgow Pre-sessional courses

Tests are accepted for 2 years following date of successful completion.

Alternatives to English Language qualification

  • Degree from majority-English speaking country (as defined by the UKVI including Canada if taught in English)
    • students must have studied for a minimum of 2 years at Undergraduate level, or 9 months at Master's level, and must have complete their degree in that majority-English speaking country and within the last 6 years
  • Undergraduate 2+2 degree from majority-English speaking country (as defined by the UKVI including Canada if taught in English)
    • students must have completed their final two years study in that majority-English speaking country and within the last 6 years

For international students, the Home Office has confirmed that the University can choose to use these tests to make its own assessment of English language ability for visa applications to degree level programmes. The University is also able to accept UKVI approved Secure English Language Tests (SELT) but we do not require a specific UKVI SELT for degree level programmes. We therefore still accept any of the English tests listed for admission to this programme.

Pre-sessional courses

The University of Glasgow accepts evidence of the required language level from the English for Academic Study Unit Pre-sessional courses. We also consider other BALEAP accredited pre-sessional courses:

Fees and funding



  • UK: £4,786
  • International & EU: £30,240

Prices are based on the annual fee for full-time study. Fees for part-time study are half the full-time fee.

Irish nationals who are living in the Common Travel Area of the UK, EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status, and Internationals with Indefinite Leave to remain status can also qualify for home fee status.

Alumni discount

We offer a 20% discount to our alumni on all Postgraduate Research and full Postgraduate Taught Masters programmes. This includes University of Glasgow graduates and those who have completed Junior Year Abroad, Exchange programme or International Summer School with us. The discount is applied at registration for students who are not in receipt of another discount or scholarship funded by the University. No additional application is required.

Possible additional fees

  • Re-submission by a research student £540
  • Submission for a higher degree by published work £1,355
  • Submission of thesis after deadline lapsed £350
  • Submission by staff in receipt of staff scholarship £790

Depending on the nature of the research project, some students will be expected to pay a bench fee (also known as research support costs) to cover additional costs. The exact amount will be provided in the offer letter.


The iPhD  is not supported by University of Glasgow Scholarship/Funding


The College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences Graduate School provides a vibrant, supportive and stimulating environment for all our postgraduate students. We aim to provide excellent support for our postgraduates through dedicated postgraduate convenors, highly trained supervisors and pastoral support for each student.
Our overarching aim is to provide a research training environment that includes:

  • provision of excellent facilities and cutting edge techniques
  • training in essential research and generic skills
  • excellence in supervision and mentoring
  • interactive discussion groups and seminars
  • an atmosphere that fosters critical cultural policy and research analysis
  • synergy between research groups and areas
  • extensive multidisciplinary and collaborative research
  • extensive external collaborations both within and beyond the UK 
  • a robust generic skills programme including opportunities in social and commercial training

How to apply

Identify potential supervisors

All Postgraduate Research Students are allocated a supervisor who will act as the main source of academic support and research mentoring. You may want to identify a potential supervisor and contact them to discuss your research proposal before you apply. Please note, even if you have spoken to an academic staff member about your proposal you still need to submit an online application form.

You can find relevant academic staff members with our staff research interests search.

IPhD applicants do not need to contact a supervisor, as you will choose from a list of IPhD projects. Each project has named supervisors.

Gather your documents

Before applying please make sure you gather the following supporting documentation:

  1. Final or current degree transcripts including grades (and an official translation, if needed) – scanned copy in colour of the original document.
  2. Degree certificates (and an official translation, if needed): scanned copy in colour of the original document
  3. Two references on headed paper and signed by the referee. One must be academic, the other can be academic or professional [except iPhD applicants, where only one academic or professional reference is required]. References may be uploaded as part of the application form or you may enter your referees contact details on the application form. We will then email your referee and notify you when we receive the reference.  We can also accept confidential references direct to, from the referee’s university or business email account.
  4. Research proposal, CV, samples of written work as per requirements for each subject area. iPhD applicants do not need to submit any of these as you will start your programme by choosing a masters.
  5. Completed College of MVLS Postgraduate Research Cover Letter

Notes for iPhD applicants

  • add 'I wish to study the MSc in (select MSc from IPhD project choices) as the masters taught component of the IPhD' in the research proposal box
  • For supervisor name, please ensure you write the named supervisors from your chosen IPhD project.
Apply now

Contact us

Before you apply

PhD/MSc/MD: email

iPhD: email

After you have submitted your application

PhD/MSc/MD/iPhD: contact our Admissions team

Any references may be submitted by email to: