Studying the metastatic stroma in pancreatic cancer to find better therapies


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 is the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Current treatments are not very effective, and new treatment strategies are urgently needed.

Pancreatic cancer is a highly metastatic disease, which most often spreads to the liver. The efficient colonisation of the liver by disseminated cancer cells critically depends on the formation of a growth promoting niche at the distant site. We and others have shown that the hepatic metastatic niche is composed of non-cancerous stroma cells, primarily immune cells and fibroblast. Emerging evidence suggests that the generation of the metastatic niche is not only driven by cancer cells, but also shaped by stroma-stroma cell interactions. However, the molecular mechanisms of the stroma-stroma cell crosstalk and how these interactions regulate the metastatic niche formation remains unclear. Thus, a better understanding of molecular mechanism underlying stroma-stroma cell interactions is critical to develop better therapies against metastatic cancer and to improve patient survival.

This PhD project will explore the interactions of immune cells and fibroblast populations within the metastatic tumour microenvironment and how these stromal cell populations control metastatic growth and response to therapy. It will employ a number of different techniques including CRISPR gene editing, 3D co-culture models, confocal microscopy, and omics based approaches. In addition, our group employs 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 the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, allowing to perform many of these studies on primary material from patients.

We offer:

You will join a vibrant cancer research laboratory which is part of the North West Cancer Research Centre, Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, and the Institute of Translational Medicine at the University of Liverpool. Our research group has a long standing interest in studying the tumour microenvironment in cancer. You will learn the necessary skills from senior researchers of the team to assure high quality training and you will weekly meet with your supervisor Prof. Michael Schmid 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 part of a team. You will also be expected to publish your results in a peer-reviewed journal.

Please note the University of Liverpool’s English Language Requirement for EU and International Students is an IELTS score of 6.5 with no band score lower than 5.5.

Closing date for applications: 3rd March 2019

Anticipated starting date of project: 1. October 2019

 How to apply:

Please send the following documents as a single PDF file to

  1. Cover letter
  2. CV
  3. Names and contact details of three references

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


Open to EU/UK applicants

Funding information

Funded studentship

This position is funded by Cancer Research UK for the 4 year duration. The successful candidate will be affiliated to the University of Liverpool. The successful applicant will be awarded a non-taxable & national insurance free annual stipend of £19,000/annum plus payment of university tuition and bench fees.

Applications can only be accepted from Home/EU students.