Description :

Lead Institute / Faculty: Faculty of Medicine/Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

Main Supervisor: Salim Khakoo (Faculty of Medicine)/Marcel Utz (Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences)

Other members of the supervisory team: This is a joint interdisciplinary studentship with two co-supervisor

Duration of the award: 3.5 years

Full time or part time: Full

Project description: 

This is an interdisciplinary research project between the departments of Medicine and Chemistry at the University of Southampton. The studentship forms part of a wider network of collaboration across the UK and Europe to investigate hepatocellular carcinoma, funded by Cancer Research UK.


This project aims to make use of recent advances in microfluidic lab-on-a-chip technology that allow culture of cells and tissues in controlled environments, while observing biochemical processes in detail and in real time by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. It provides an exciting opportunity for a candidate with a degree in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, Medicine, or a related field, who is interested in broadening her/his scientific horizon by engaging in a truly interdisciplinary project.

Project Outline

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) arises on the background of chronic liver disease most commonly due to viral hepatitis, alcohol and obesity.HCC is the third commonest cause of cancer death globally and in the UK is predicted to rise by 43% in men between 2014 and 2035.  Unfortunately, HCC is extremely difficult to treat and has an average five-year survival of around 5%.  New therapies are therefore urgently required.  One exciting opportunity is that of immunotherapy.  Understanding how the immune system reacts to HCC is crucial to developing these new therapies.  Natural killer cells are an important immune defence against cancer, and an emerging opportunity for immunotherapy.  Immunometabolism is a rapidly developing and exciting new field of biology.  It is particularly important for the immune response to cancer.  The goal of this project is of understand how the metabolism of natural killer cells changes given different stimuli and determine how these changes correlate with activity against different liver cancers.

The student will take a step-wise approach to the problem, initially defining the parameters for natural killer cell activation.They will then adapt these techniques so that immune cell metabolism can be studied on a novel magnetic resonance microfluidic platform.  They will then study how metabolic characteristics of natural killer cells can be changed by different liver cancers, and hence how natural killer cells can be best manipulated for immunotherapy of cancer.  The student will work jointly with Professor Marcel Utz (Department of Chemistry) to perform the magnetic resonance studies and with Professor Salim Khakoo (Faculty of Medicine) to develop the techniques for natural killer cells activation.

Please contact:  Prof. Salim Khakoo at or to Prof. Marcel Utz at

Person Specification: See below

The successful candidate is likely to have the following qualifications:

A 1stor 2:1 degree in a relevant discipline and/or second degree with a related Masters

Funding information:
 The 3.5-year PhD studentship includes fees and stipends are available, supported by Cancer Research UK, Miltenyi Biotec, and the Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS). Applicants may be accepted either into the PhD programme in Chemistry or in the School of Medicine, depending on their background and interest. Successful candidates should have a good degree in chemistry, biochemistry, medicine, or a related field, and a special interest in immunology, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and/or microfluidic systems.

The project welcomes applicants from the EU/UK who have or expect to obtain a first class degree in a relevant discipline. Funding will cover fees and a living allowance in line with RCUK guidelines.

Administrative contact and how to apply:

Please complete the University's online application form, which you can find at

You should enter Professor S Khakoo as your proposed supervisor. To support your application provide an academic CV (including contact details of two referees), official academic transcripts and a personal statement (outlining your suitability for the studentship, what you hope to achieve from the PhD and your research experience to date).

Closing date: 30/3/19

Interview date:  1/5/19

Closing Date: 30 Mar 2019
Post Type: PhD Studentship (Funded)

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