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Funded PhD Opportunity

Next generation analyses in B cell chronic lymphoproliferative disorders: generation of multi-omics datasets in multiple myeloma to enhance understanding of the biology of the tumour cell.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Summary

Multiple Myeloma (MM), is an incurable haematological malignancy of end stage B lineage cells, or plasma cells. It has an incidence of approximately 65 new cases per million of the population per annum, with a male:female ratio of 1.3:1 and shows differences in incidence in different ethnic groups. Overall survivals have improved recently from a median of 3–4 years to 5–7 years, although upwards of 25% of patients survive for less than 24 months. Major obstacles to improved outcomes are the disease’s heterogeneity, drug resistance and the immunosuppressive nature of the tumour in its bone marrow microenvironment. Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS), from which most cases of MM are thought to evolve, has an incidence of 3-4% in the over 50 age group, with 1% of cases progressing to MM per annum. Smouldering Multiple Myeloma (SMM) constitutes approximately 14% of all cases of myeloma and carries a 10% risk per annum of progression to MM. Factors contributing to progression of these conditions are unclear.

There is an urgent need to improve understanding of their biology and identify biomarkers to enable prediction of disease progression, and responsiveness to specific treatments. This is a longitudinal study, with serial sampling of patients at different time points. Named collaborators include NHS clinicians caring for the patients. Significant preliminary findings include identification of tumour plasma cells in peripheral blood (PB) in approximately half the patients tested to date, including some with MGUS and some MM patients considered to be in complete remission (CR) using conventional criteria. Using multicolour flow cytometry, these cells are sorted and stored for future molecular analyses. Cellular, plasma and serum markers will be analysed on all patients, at each sampling time-point, to improve understanding of the clinical immunosupression that occurs and biological processes involved in disease progression, efficacy of, or resistance to, specific therapies, and identification of biomarkers which could be applied in clinical practice to enhance outcomes.

Most previous studies have used cell lines, or single patient samples only allowing a snapshot at one time-point. Serial sampling will facilitate analyses of tumour cells from presentation/diagnosis through to the almost inevitable relapse and development of drug resistance in terminal stages. This will contribute to improved understanding of proliferation, survival and drug resistance factors involved in disease progression in individual patients, the pathways involved, and may identify novel therapeutic targets for future drug development.

Specific investigations planned involve generation of large multi-omics datasets.Techniques will include next generation cellular, proteomic and molecular analyses available at NICSM, or outsourced to specialised laboratories in Europe and N America. Project will be mainly wet-lab based, with some bioinformatics components. Thus, we are seeking a student having a strong interest in cellular, proteomic and molecular investigations in oncology, in particular haemato-oncology. Knowledge of the innate and adaptive immune systems, and statistics/bioinformatics will be an added advantage.

For any informal enquiry and/or to discuss more about the project, please contact the supervisors: Dr Priyank Shukla (p.shukla@ulster.ac.uk), Professor Denis Alexander (d.alexander@ulster.ac.uk) and Professor Tony Bjourson (aj.bjourson@ulster.ac.uk).


Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings

Funding

    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.

    DFE

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

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Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe


Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
6, 7 and 8 March 2018


Contact supervisor

Dr Priyank Shukla


Other supervisors


Applying

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