Development of antisense morpholino oligonucleotides for the treatment of cancer

An opportunity to apply for a funded full-time PhD Studentship in the Faculty of Health and Applied Science, UWE Bristol.  The studentship will be funded by UWE Bristol in partnership with GeneTools LLC. Reference: 1920-JAN-HAS03.
The expected start date of this studentship is 1 January 2020.
The closing date for applications is 22 October 2019.

About the Studentship

The development of traditional drugs such as small molecule inhibitors or monoclonal antibodies is an expensive process often hampered by the development of resistance to therapy. An alternative approach is to target genes directly with antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs). These are based on specific genetic sequences and offer the advantage of being highly selective. There are several different types of ASOs. Morpholino ASOs, invented by our industrial collaborators at GeneTools LLC, Oregon USA, require perfect base pairing over 15 bases, are chemically non-reactive, and very stable in a cellular environment. The drug Eteplirsen, now FDA approved, is a morpholino that corrects the aberrant splicing of the DMD gene and, for the first time, children with this terrible disease are able to walk.

There is now interest in developing morpholinos for the treatment of cancer. We have recently successfully designed ASO morpholinos that target the ERG oncogene, inhibiting cancer cell growth (see Jumbe et al. 2019; PMID:30296658). Some genes are specifically expressed during fetal development and re-activated in cancer cells because they provide growth advantages. These are known as oncofetal genes and are optimal targets for therapy as they are specifically active in cancer cells. These include i) the beta subunit of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). The main function of hCG is to protect the fetus from the mother’s immune system. hCG is re-activated in cancer cells to help evade the immune system; ii) MBNL3, an oncofetal splice factor that promotes tumorigenesis by modifying splicing of key cancer genes; and iii) IGF2BP1, an RNA-binding protein that promotes mRNA stability of important oncogenes. With GeneTools we plan to design and test morpholinos that target these and other oncofetal transcripts. It is envisaged that the morpholinos could be developed into effective cancer therapies.

The aim of this PhD is to design and test morpholino ASOs that target oncofetal transcripts in a range of cancer cell line models, evaluating their ability to knockdown their expression, and then testing their effect on key cancer cell biology parameters including proliferative capacity, apoptosis, cell migration and invasion, cell morphology and the expression of EMT markers.

For an informal discussion about the studentship, please email Professor Mike Ladomery on

Please also see the Ladomery Lab website for a detailed description of the group’s research interests.


The studentship is available from 1 January 2020 for a period of three (3) years, subject to satisfactory progress and includes a tax exempt stipend, which is currently £15,009 per annum. In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for up to three years (Home/EU rates only).

In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for up to three years (Home/EU rates only). International applicants will be required to cover the difference between Home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates in each year of study. Please see our fees and funding webpage for information.

Eligibility Criteria

Applicants must have a BSc(Hons) in a suitable subject area: genetics, molecular biology, biomedical science and ideally will have obtained a first class or at least a 2:1 degree. Applicants will ideally also have additional research experience, for example, through an MSc / MRes in a related area, and/or have worked as a technical/research assistant. Previous laboratory experience in a project in a related area, with experience in standard molecular biology techniques and cell culture is preferred. A recognised English language qualification is required.

How to apply

Please submit your application online. When prompted use the reference number 1920-JAN-HAS03.

Documentation: you will need to upload your research proposal, all your degree certificates and transcripts and proof of English language proficiency as attachments to your application, so please have these available when you complete the application form.

Research proposal: please explain, in no more than 500 words, how your skillset and experience could contribute to this proposed PhD project.

Referees: you will need to provide details of two referees as part of your application. At least one referee must be an academic referee from the institution that conferred your highest degree. Please ensure that your nominated referees are willing and able to provide references before you submit your application.

Closing date

The closing date for applications is 22 October 2019.

Further information

Interviews will be held on Tuesday 5 November 2019. If you have not heard from us by this date, we thank you for your application but on this occasion you have not been successful.

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