Measuring somatic evolutionary processes in cancer and healthy tissue

Application deadline: 12 November 2020

Start date: January 2021

Dr Benjamin Werner from the Barts Cancer Institute in London is searching for a PhD candidate to join his team. This project will mathematically model the evolution that occurs inside the human body, and make use of large datasets (mainly genomics) to fit and test the models. The project will commence in January 2021 and has funding for 3 years. The student will be based primarily at the Barts Cancer Institute, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD), Charterhouse Square in the City of London.

Primary Supervisor: Dr Benjamin Werner

Centre for Cancer Genomics & Computational Biology

Dr Benjamin Werner from the Barts Cancer Institute in London is searching for a PhD candidate to join his team at Queen Mary University in London. This project will mathematically model the evolution that occurs inside the human body, and make use of large datasets (mainly genomics) to fit and test the models.

Both tumours and healthy tissues evolve, e.g. they accumulate mutations with time. Usually, we cannot observe this change directly, but can only measure the diversity of mutations at a given age in healthy tissue or at diagnosis in tumours. We therefore develop methods that extract information of the evolutionary process from single time point data. These methods combine expertise in data science, bioinformatics, theoretical population genetics and genomics. During your PhD, you would be part of a team that develops and applies new computational/mathematical methods to genomic data of cancerous and healthy tissue to understand in which way(s) evolution is different in healthy compared to cancer cells. We work on mutation accumulation and telomere shortening in healthy haematopoiesis, site-frequency spectra in healthy tissues and tumours, the dynamics of extra-chromosomal DNA and follow resistance evolution in cancer from cell free DNA in blood of patients. The specific project will be tailored to the interests of the student.

During your PhD you would learn how to analyse genomic data (newly generated and public data, single cell and bulk sequencing), learn how to statistically analyse those data, program small computer simulations and develop/apply mathematical models of somatic evolution. The exact importance of each of these skills will depend on your interest and no detailed knowledge of each of these skills is required to start with your project. Our lab works very closely with many groups, most importantly, the research groups of Trevor Graham, Andrea Sottoriva and Weini Huang. You would be part and greatly benefit from these frequent collaborations and discussions. For a more detailed discussion on details of the projects and opportunities, please contact Benjamin Werner at: b.werner@qmul.ac.uk.

Academic Entry Requirements

This studentship is open to graduates with:

  • a 2:1 or 1st degree in a relevant biological subject from a UK university or the international equivalent from a recognised institution.

English Language Requirements

Applicants for whom English is not a first language will also require a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 (with 6.0 in the written component) or equivalent, unless your undergraduate degree was studied in, and awarded by, an English speaking country. For more information on acceptable English language qualifications please see here.

Fee Status

The funding for this studentship only covers tuition fees at the Home rate. Overseas applicants are welcome to apply, but will be required to fund the difference in tuition fees.

The studentship includes the following funding for 3 years:

  • A tax-free annual stipend of £21,000
  • Tuition fees at the Home rate*
  • Project consumables

*If you are considered an overseas student for fee purposes, you are welcome to apply for this studentship, however you will be required to cover the difference in tuition fees.

To apply you will need to complete an online application form. When applying, please choose the non-clinical PhD route.

The following supporting documents will be required as part of your application:

  • Your CV
  • Statement of purpose
  • Details of 2 referees
  • Copy of your transcript(s), including a breakdown of marks
  • Copy of your passport
  • If applicable, proof of English proficiency

If you have a question about the project, or would like to arrange an informal discussion, please contact the supervisor directly (subject ‘PhD applicant’). For general enquiries about the PhD studentship or application process please contact bci-cancercourses@qmul.ac.uk 

Successfully shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview at Barts Cancer Institute.