PhD: The Bone Microenvironment as a Master Regulator of Disseminated Tumour Cells Responsible for Breast Cancer Recurrence

University of Sheffield

Supervisor(s): Prof Ingunn Holen and Dr Penelope Ottewell

Project details:

Breast cancer can return many years after the primary tumour was successfully removed, due to the ability of tumour cells to remain dormant in the bone marrow for decades. Understanding the mechanisms that breast cancer cells use to survive in bone, and identifying the signals that cause them to start growing again to cause cancer spread, is essential for improving the survival of patients. This project will use a range of different advanced model systems to study the biology of disseminated cancer cells in bone, and you will also have a chance to improve our models so they capture the early stages of cancer spread. The cells of the normal bone microenvironment play an important part in regulating tumour cell dormancy, and you will use different drugs that modify these cells to determine if they can prevent or reduce the growth of tumour cells in bone. Finally the project aims to identify some of the signals that trigger growth of tumour cells to generate new (secondary) colonies. Overall the project will improve our understanding of breast cancer progression, potentially helping the development of new therapies.

The project will be carried out in the Medical School, University of Sheffield, UK. You will join a world-leading team of around 15 people with extensive expertise in breast cancer and bone. You will be supervised by leading scientist with a track record of training PhD students who go on to become successful post-doctoral researchers in international laboratories.

How to apply:

Please complete a University Postgraduate Research Application form available here:

Please clearly state the prospective main supervisor in the respective box and select “Oncology & Metabolism” as the department.

Entry Requirements:

We are seeking a candidate with a keen interest in cancer research who would like to develop a career in the field of advanced (metastatic) breast cancer. Candidates must have a first or upper second class honors degree. This project is open to UK/EU/EEA students.


Interested candidates should in the first instance contact Professor Ingunn Holen, Professor of Bone Oncology at More information about the work in the Holen team can be found on

This exciting PhD project is funded by “Second Hope”, a UK based charity working to improve outcome of secondary breast cancer (

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Northern England