Targeting macrophages to disrupt pancreatic cancer metastasis


Project Description

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 currently the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Current treatments are not very effective, and new treatment strategies are urgently needed. Thus, a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the metastatic process in pancreatic cancer is critical to improve treatment and patient survival.

During pancreatic cancer metastasis, which most often occurs to the liver, tumour formation at the distant metastatic site critically depends on the support of non-cancerous stroma cells, particularly macrophages. Macrophages are innate immune cells and one of their key functions is to protect us from pathogens and cancer cells. Our recent published findings provide evidence that disseminated pancreatic cancer cells skew macrophage functions to their own benefit. Thus, instead of killing cancer cells, tumour educated macrophages help cancer cells to grow and even protect cancer cells from other cytolytic immune cells (Nielsen et al., Nature Cell Biology, 2016; Quaranta et al., Cancer Research, 2018). Thus, restoring the protective functions of macrophages against cancer represents a novel treatment strategy to fight pancreatic cancer.

Project Aims:

The overall goal of this project is to study the molecular mechanisms how anti-tumorigenic functions of macrophages are lost during metastatic cancer progression in order to restore their protective functions against cancer.

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. We have a strong expertise in using different genetic mouse tumour models and cell culture based assays. The project will include the use of state of the art technologies, including pre-clinical in vivo imaging (MRI, MSOT, IVIS), flow and mass cytometry, microscopy, and single cell RNA sequencing. 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.

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, immunology, and/or biomedical sciences) and some experience of working in a laboratory. You should be highly motivated to pursue high quality research and should be able to work part of a team. You will also be expected to publish your results in a peer-reviewed journal. All applicants must satisfy the appropriate University English language requirements. For EU and international students this is an IELTS score of 6.5 with no band score lower than 5.5. 

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

Closing date for applications: 3rd March 2019

Anticipated starting date of project: 1st 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 2 referees.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

This 3-year PhD studentship covers tuition fees, research support costs and a stipend at UKRI standard rates (£14,999 p.a. for 2019/20). The studentship is open to UK, EU and international candidates.