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Cancer: Why and how do brain tumour cells invade ‘mini-brains’?


Key facts

Type of research degree
4 year PhD
Application deadline
Ongoing deadline
Country eligibility
International (outside UK)
Dr Heiko Wurdak
Additional supervisors
Dr Ryan Mathew
School of Medicine
Research groups/institutes
Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St James's
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

Globally, nearly 189,000 people die each year as a result of brain cancer and around 250,000 people are diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour (umbrella name: glioma). No cure is available and the highly-infiltrative growth of gliomas into healthy brain tissue hinders complete surgical resection of the tumour, also complicating precision medicine approaches that are urgently required to prevent tumour recurrence, despite aggressive chemoradiotherapy. One significant challenge is to faithfully study glioma cell migration in 3D in the laboratory. To this end, we have demonstrated that transcriptionally-heterogeneous patient-derived brain cancer cell models (1) spontaneously invade into healthy stem cell-derived &lsquo;mini-brains&rsquo;, within 48 hours (2). The resultant self-assembling glioma-organoids - hereafter termed &lsquo;assembloids&rsquo; - represent a pioneering 3D laboratory assay to study tumour biology in a clinically relevant timeline. Here, we aim to elucidate the molecular basis of the migration routes of glioma cell patches within the &lsquo;mini brains&rsquo; under control and malignant network-inducing conditions, which are associated with a change in cell migration behavior (3). We will use gene expression profiling combined with loss- and gain-of-function approaches that will identify genes and proteins that can significantly change glioma cell-organoid cell interactions that either increase or reduce glioma cell motility over time. Ultimately, we aim to identify therapeutic (protein) targets that fuel glioma infiltration, and therefore, may be exploited for developing anti-glioma precision medicine approaches. <br />

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p>Techniques associated with project&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Pluripotent stem cell and patient-derived glioma cell culture, (bespoke) self-assembling organoids, gene expression profiling (mRNA-seq), ectopic gene expression, gene knockdown, histology, tissue clearing, &nbsp;immunostaining, qRT-PCR&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> References&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> The small molecule KHS101 induces bioenergetic dysfunction in glioblastoma cells through inhibition of mitochondrial HSPD1, Polson S., Kuchler V.B., Abbosh C., Ross E.M., Mathew, R.K., Beard H.A., Chuntharpursat-Bon E., Williams J., Da Silva B., Shao H., Patel A., Davies A.J., Droop A., Griffiths H.B.S., Chumas P., Short S.C., Lorger M., Gestwicki J., Roberts L.D., Bon, R.S. Allison S.J., Zhu S., Markowetz F., Wurdak H. (2018) Science Translational Medicine 15;10(454). pii: eaar2718. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aar2718.&nbsp;</p> <p>Spontaneous glioblastoma spheroid infiltration of early-stage cerebral organoids models brain tumor invasion, da Silva B., Mathew R.K., Polson E.S., Williams J., Wurdak H. (2018) SLAS Discovery 1:2472555218764623. doi: 10.1177/2472555218764623. &nbsp;</p> <p>Chemically-induced neurite-like outgrowth reveals multicellular network function in patient-derived glioblastoma cells, da Silva B., Irving B.K., Polson E.S., Droop A., Griffiths H.B.S., Mathew R..K, Stead L.F., Marrison J., Williams C., Williams J., Short S.C., Scarcia M., O&#39;Toole P.J., Allison S.J., Mavria G., Wurdak H. (2019) Journal of &nbsp;Cell Science 132(19). pii: jcs228452. doi: 10.1242/jcs.228452. &nbsp;</p> <p>This project is part of the&nbsp;<a href="">International PhD Academy: Medical Research</a></p> <p><strong>In line with the bespoke nature of our International PhD Academy a modified PhD project can be proposed dependent on students interests and background.</strong></p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>Please note these are not standalone projects and applicants must apply to the PhD academy directly.</p> <p>Applications can be made at any time. To apply for this project applicants should complete an <a href="">online application form</a> and submit this&nbsp;alongside a full academic CV, degree transcripts (or marks so far if still studying) and degree certificates. Please make it clear in the research information section that you are applying for the International PhD Academy: Medical Research, as well as the title of the project you wish to be considered for.</p> <p>We also require 2 academic references to support your application. Please ask your referees to send these <a href="">references</a> on your behalf, directly to <a href=""></a></p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

A degree in biological sciences, dentistry, medicine, midwifery, nursing, psychology or a good honours degree in a subject relevant to the research topic. A Masters degree in a relevant subject may also be required in some areas of the Faculty. For entry requirements for all other research degrees we offer, please contact us.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

Applicants whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. The Faculty of Medicine and Health minimum requirements in IELTS and TOEFL tests for PhD, MSc, MPhil, MD are: &bull; British Council IELTS - score of 7.0 overall, with no element less than 6.5 &bull; TOEFL iBT - overall score of 100 with the listening and reading element no less than 22, writing element no less than 23 and the speaking element no less than 24.

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>Informal enquires about regarding the bespoke taught first year of the PhD programme and research projects can be made by contacting</p> <p>Enquiries regarding the application process should be directed to the Faculty of Medicine and Health Graduate School Office e: <a href=""></a>, t: +44 (0)113 343 8221.</p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>