MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership: Role of macrophage-mediated efferocytosis in cancer – mechanisms and new therapeutic opportunities


Pancreatic cancer develops in the pancreas, yet cancer cells spread aggressively to distant sites in our body, a process called metastasis, where they can form metastatic tumours. Pancreatic cancer most often spreads to the liver. We and others have shown that during pancreatic cancer metastasis, large numbers of immune cells, known as macrophages, accumulate at the metastatic site and these macrophages promote efficient metastatic outgrowth of disseminated cancer cells in the liver. Thus, targeting tumour promoting functions of macrophages represents a promising new strategy to fight pancreatic cancer.

Efferocytosis, or engulfment of apoptotic cells by macrophages, is an essential process in tissue homoeostasis and the resolution of inflammation, but its role in metastasis is less well understood. Our new findings suggest that efferocytosis is promoting pancreatic cancer liver metastasis, however, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain unknown.

This DiMeN funded PhD project will explore whether and how efferocytosis induces metastasis promoting functions in macrophages. It will employ a number of different cutting-edge technologies, including gene editing, Lyso-IP with subsequent quantitative mass spectrometry analysis, 3D co-culture models, and confocal microscopy. In addition, we employ mouse models of metastatic pancreatic cancer to translate findings from in vitro assays into an in-vivo scenario. The PhD candidate will also benefit from our close collaborations with clinical colleagues at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, allowing the validation of findings obtained during this PhD project in cancer patient samples.

We offer:

You will join a vibrant cancer research laboratory in the Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, University of Liverpool run by Prof Michael Schmid (primary supervisor) and Dr Ainhoa Mielgo (tertiary supervisor). This team has a long-standing interest in studying the tumour microenvironment in cancer. Your secondary supervisor will be Prof Matthias Trost from the University of Newcastle. Matthias Trost is a renowned expert in applying quantitative proteomics to study lysosomal compartments in macrophages at the University of Newcastle. You will learn the necessary skills from senior researchers of each team to assure high quality training and you will weekly meet with your supervisors to discuss the findings and future directions of the project. This PhD project provides exceptional opportunities for the student to benefit from diverse expertise and to be exposed to cutting edge techniques.

We expect:

It is expected that you will be an innovative individual with an interest in applying your research skills to a challenging project. Applicants should have a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a relevant subject (i.e. cancer biology, molecular biology, and/or biomedical sciences) and some experience of working in a laboratory. You should be highly motivated to pursue a PhD training and should be able to work as  part of a team. You will also be expected to publish your results in a peer-reviewed journal.

Informal enquires may be made to Prof. Michael Schmid, email  or visit:

Benefits of being in the DiMeN DTP:

This project is part of the Discovery Medicine North Doctoral Training Partnership (DiMeN DTP), a diverse community of PhD students across the North of England researching the major health problems facing the world today. Our partner institutions (Universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and Sheffield) are internationally recognised as centres of research excellence and can offer you access to state-of the-art facilities to deliver high impact research.

We are very proud of our student-centred ethos and committed to supporting you throughout your PhD. As part of the DTP, we offer bespoke training in key skills sought after in early career researchers, as well as opportunities to broaden your career horizons in a range of non-academic sectors.

Being funded by the MRC means you can access additional funding for research placements, international training opportunities or internships in science policy, science communication and beyond. See how our current DiMeN students have benefited from this funding here:

Further information on the programme and how to apply can be found on our website:




Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

Studentships are fully funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) for 4yrs. Funding will cover tuition fees, stipend and project costs. We also aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of full studentships to international applicants. Please read additional guidance here: View Website
Studentships commence: 1st October 2023
Good luck!



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Mielgo et al., CSH Perspect Med, 2020
Bilkei-Gorzo et al., EMBO J, 2022
Dean et al, Current Opin Chem Biol, 2019