Ocular Oncology MPhil/Phd/MD

Major code: OOMR/OOPR/OOMD


About us

The Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine

The Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine forms the mainstay of the new NWCR Centre University of Liverpool

Our principal research themes include basic cancer cell and molecular biology, translational research and tumour specific research in many areas including pancreatic, head and neck cancer, urological, breast, gastro-oesophageal, colorectal, gynaecological and lung cancers as well as paediatric cancers and haemato-oncology. The Department forms an important component of the North West Cancer Research Centre - University of Liverpool and is closely aligned with the Cancer Research UK Liverpool Cancer Trials Unit, the Cancer Research UK/NIHR Liverpool Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (http://www.lctu.org.uk/lecmc/) and the NIHR Pancreas Biomedical Research Unit. In addition, the Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine will soon be home to the Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute.

The Research Assessment Exercise 2008 identified particular strengths within the Department (previously known as the School of Cancer Studies) including basic research in cytokinesis and DNA damage response, the molecular and cellular biology of lymphoid and myeloid leukaemias and the genetics of squamous cell carcinoma. Translational research developed around focussed themes such as novel biological therapeutics, and large multi-centre clinical trials in leukaemia and pancreatic cancer was also identified as a particular strength of the Department. Of the total research activity performed within the Department, 50% was deemed to be of world-leading or internationally excellent quality, and a further 50% internationally recognised.

The University has invested over £20million in cancer research which has been used for the creation of several new posts in the Department, and in the establishment of the University of Liverpool Cancer Research Centre (ULCRC) building. This commitment to cancer research has resulted in the launch of Liverpool Cancer Research UK Centre – an organisation that brings together scientists, clinicians and local stakeholders to lead and deliver cancer research of the highest quality and importance..

Research income itself now exceeds £25m and includes funding from Cancer Research UK, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, Northwest Cancer Research Fund, Kay Kendal Leukaemia Fund, Wellcome Trust, MRC, NIHR, BBSRC and a number of industrial partners. The Department also enjoys participation within the European Funding Networks. 

Institute of Translational Medicine

The Institute of Translational Medicine (ITM) (http://www.liv.ac.uk/translational-medicine) comprises the Departments of:

The overarching themes of Translational Medicine are:

  • Basic studies which define the biological effects of therapeutics in humans.
  • Non-human or non-clinical studies conducted with the intent to advance therapies to the clinic or develop principles for application of therapeutics to human disease.
  • Investigations in humans which define the biology of disease and provide the scientific foundation for the development of new or improved therapies for human disease.
  • Any clinical trial of a therapy that was initiated based on the above.
  • The biology-chemistry “bridge”.

Translational medicine is a two-way street from bedside to bench and back again and also from bench to bedside. This is because not all in vitro and in vivo models replicate human disease. It is only possible to translate high quality basic research. Therefore, it is vital that we have integration of clinical, whole animal and in vitro work. This must be underpinned by strong cellular, molecular and bioanalytical technologies alongside clinical networks. The integration of practical research with theoretical advances is being strengthened by advances in Computational and Systems Biology.

A primary aim of the Institute is to provide the necessary infrastructure, facilities, professional support and environment to foster collaborative research between basic science and clinical science postgraduates. The Institute of Translational Medicine will draw on the established expertise within each Department to foster, develop and enhance translational medicine work streams and projects throughout the Institute as a whole. The Institute has close links with the Institute of Learning and Teaching (ILT) and participates in both undergraduate and taught postgraduate teaching including CPDs.

The Institute runs a comprehensive Master in Biomedical Sciences and Translational Medicine (MRes) programme with ten research strands (pathways) covering all it core areas.

  • Biology of Cancer
  • Biomedical Imaging and Biosensing
  • Biostatistics (with Health Informatics)
  • Cancer Medicine
  • Cellular and Molecular Physiology
  • Drug Safety
  • Medical Sciences
  • Molecular and Clinical Gastroenterology
  • Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology
  • Nanomedicine
  • Neuroscience
  • Stem Cells, Tissues and Disease
  • Women’s, Children’s and Perinatal Health

All departments in the Institute of Translational Medicine also offer a comprehensive range of MD, MPhil, and PhD programmes both full time and part time in all their core areas (see for detailed programme codes and how to apply under the individual departments).

Professor Sarah Coupland

The University is an institution recognised for its research excellence and thus offers students a stimulating intellectual environment where “cutting-edge” science is performed. 

What do you consider a postgraduate degree from your department has to offer and benefit a prospective student both within their academic discipline and outside? (For instance, what transferable skills are gained; what knowledge do you consider is applicable to other career paths)?

A postgraduate degree in the Division of Pathology, Department Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, allows the student to obtain a comprehensive overview of morphological, immunohistochemical and genetic techniques employed in research in ocular, haematological and “solid” tumours. The clinical relevance of the research, in terms of improvements in diagnostics, prognostication or prediction of therapy response, is emphasised. Participation in Journal clubs as well as in research seminars is expected, in order for the PG students to gain maximum exposure to the wide variety of scientific projects being undertaken. Those leaving our research programme can apply their knowledge in both basic research as well as clinically-orientated science; will have confidence when reading and assessing peer-reviewed publications for quality; and will have the ability to formulate their own research ideas.  Apart from the degree itself, the experience of working intimately with a highly-professional and enthusiastic team of scientists gives the student a taste of the thrill of research. There will inevitably be lasting impressions that would have a positive influence over the student’s career aspirations and work ethic.

Please describe your research interests and any research projects you are involved with.

Our research projects are summarised on the LOORG website (www.loorg.org) and can be read in more detail there. 

What do you see as the significance and impact of your research within your own specialism and beyond (potentially to society at large)?  Do you consider your research to be ‘making a difference’ (improving lives, shaping policy, or expanding the boundaries of our knowledge and changing perceptions)? 

We are a “translational” research group: by this I mean our work is aimed at bringing about tangible patient benefit both in the short-, and the long-term. All members of the research group feel passionately about this focus, i.e., to improve the lives of patients with ocular cancer.

Who funds or contributes funding to your research – is it a particularly prestigious or renowned organisation or business?  Does your research have commercial potential or application?

We are funded by: Cancer Research UK (the world’s biggest designated cancer charity); the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC); and two local charities the North West Cancer Research Fund and the Eye Tumour Research Fund.

A major focus of our research is the development of novel therapies for ocular tumours. We are involved in several national NCRI-led clinical trials, and our basic research is aimed towards the identification o molecular changes in ocular tumours that could be targets for potential therapies.

Does pursuing your research involve travel to particularly interesting or prominent places?  Does it involve collaboration with particularly interesting or prominent institutions or organisations?

As President of the European Ophthalmic Oncology Group, President of the International Society of Ophthalmic Pathology and Chair of the Pathology/Anatomy Programme Committee of ARVO (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology), I do quite a bit of travelling. Apart from visiting exotic places, I feel privileged to visit leading research institutions in many countries, working closely with opinion leaders who over the years have become close colleagues and friends. More importantly, I feel that these international activities are bringing about scientific advances that will benefit many patients in the future.

Highlights of my travels include lecturing at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India (where I am a Visiting Professor); speaking at the Tonggren Eye Hospital in Beijing, China; teaching eye pathology in Cairo, Egypt; teaching at the Wills’ Eye Hospital in Philadelphia; and campaigning with ARVO representatives to maintain funding in eye research (despite current financial restrictions) at the Capitol in Washington.

Please note, however, that I don't necessarily need to travel all the time to achieve satisfaction – I gain much pleasure from work in the Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine as Co-Deputy Head; developing the Division of Pathology as Head; establishing an advanced molecular pathology diagnostic service, and creating opportunities and infrastructures that enable scientists and clinicians to fulfill their potential.

What skills, qualifications and experience do your students usually have?

Limited research experience but much enthusiasm and a strong work ethic.

Is there an academic route that they’ve usually taken before they apply for your programme(s)?

Not really, both intercalating medical students and basic science graduates would find the programme both fascinating and challenging. For most of my students, their time in my labs is their first experience of research.

It is desirable but not essential for prospective postgraduate students to have had some laboratory experience.  There is, however, no substitute for evidence of enthusiasm, hard work, communication skills and the ability for a prospective student to demonstrate knowledge of the subject area.

What do you love most about the University of Liverpool?

 The opportunities that have come my way since I arrived in Liverpool have been magnificent. I have also met so many inspirational people with a diverse range of expertise. This is a very dynamic place with a bright future.

Why should prospective students study a postgraduate qualification here?

The University is an institution recognised for its research excellence and thus offers students a stimulating intellectual environment where “cutting-edge” science is performed.

What are the benefits?

One of the benefits to students interested in health care-related research is the close link between the University of Liverpool and the NHS Trusts across Merseyside, enabling ground-breaking scientific research to be translated into real health benefits for the local and wider population.

What does your department/subject, in particular, offer a prospective student?

The Liverpool Ocular Oncology Research Group is an internationally recognised research team conducting leading edge studies in the field of Ophthalmic Oncology. As such, it offers students a stimulating and supportive training environment interacting with both clinical and non-clinical scientists. The student will acquire transferable technical and personal skills. There will be opportunities to present their work at national and international conferences.