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KESS2 East PhD in Medicine: Exploring a genetically targeted therapeutic approach for adenomatous polyposis syndromes in 3D organoid cell models

This funding opportunity has expired.

Key facts

Application deadline 1 May 2019
Start date 1 July 2019
Duration 3 years
Funding body KESS
Level of study Postgraduate research
Award type PhD studentship
Number of studentships One

In collaboration with the Wales Gene Park (WGP) and our partner company Cellesce, this studentship will exploit existing organoid resources within the Inherited Tumour Syndromes Research (ITSR) Group in addition to establishing, characterising and expanding new lines from material obtained by the ITSR group during the course of the study.

This will result in the development of extensively profiled 3D organoid lines which have been grown in sufficiently abundant quantities from patient material and are representative of the tissues from which they originate.


The genetic syndromes Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and MUTYH-associated polyposis (MAP) predispose to a near 100% lifetime risk of colorectal cancer development.

With improved prophylactic surgery for colorectal disease, duodenal disease (adenomas and cancer) is becoming the most common extracolonic manifestation and is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in these patients.

The current standard of care for patients with FAP and MAP involves radical total colectomy followed by regular upper gastrointestinal surveys of the duodenum. Treatment regimens and their efficacy is varied and is dependent on the disease stage, grade and additional clinical factors.

Importantly, there are high costs associated with the use of regular surveillance intervals to manage the disease effectively. Moreover, very little is known about the natural history or genetic causes of duodenal disease in these syndromes.

Organoid 3D cultures are miniaturised versions of the organs from which they were originally derived. Intestinal organoids contain all of the differentiated epithelial cell types found in the original organ and are able to recreate the spatial organisation of the original tissue.

Organoids can now be produced for multiple organs and are commonly used as a platform for modelling drug responses and investigating mechanisms of disease. Organoid cultures represent an excellent opportunity as pre-clinical models of early colorectal and duodenal tumorigenesis in FAP and MAP patients.

The models which this studentship proposes to develop would allow for targeting of known and putative tumour drivers through processes such as genomic editing (ie CRISPR) to investigate the underlying mechanisms of tumorigenesis in these conditions.

Moreover, the identification of putative therapeutic targets which may arise from this work, are expected to lead towards the development of compounds capable of preventing tumour development in these patients.

Project aims and methods

Use of innovative technology in Wales to generate a novel model of disease

In order to establish new treatments and/or diagnostic methods that can be used in the clinic, evidence from pre-clinical work is needed. Appropriate models of disease are essential tools which are required to support pre-clinical work.

The proposed project would combine two cutting edge technologies, organoid models and CRISPR/Cas9, to develop exciting new opportunities to study human diseases in vitro using more clinically relevant systems.

Elucidation of mechanisms of disease and potential drug targets for therapy

The proposed study will utilise organoid models to look at these identified drivers in vitro. By better profiling the underlying causes of adenoma growth, we can understand the dysregulated pathways that are contributing to polyp formation and determine important targets for drug treatments.

It is expected that this work will have an impact on patients and their at-risk relatives by providing a better understanding of disease. This may lead to improved management of these patients and surveillance recommendations for upper GI disease, in addition to future new treatments and surgical strategies.

Overall, the results may lead to a reduction in bowel cancer in this high-risk group of patients.


Funding details

Tuition fee support Full UK/EU tuition fees
Maintenance stipend Doctoral stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum

Eligibility criteria

Residency Applicants for these awards must have a home or work address in the East area of Wales at the time of their application for funding and enrolment.
Academic criteria

Applicants for research PhDs will be expected to have one or both of the following:

  • a first degree, normally with class 2:1 or equivalent in a relevant subject
  • a relevant master's degree qualification or equivalent.

You must:

  • have the right to work in the UK on completion of the scholarship
  • be classified as a ‘home’ or ‘EU’ student
  • satisfy the respective admissions criteria.

It is a condition of eligibility for KESS2 funding that you have not applied for, nor are intending to apply for, a doctoral or research master's loan. Please read clause (3) (m) of The Education (Postgraduate Doctoral Degree Loans) (Wales) Regulations 2018 for more information.

East Wales region is comprised of 7 local authorities: Cardiff, Flintshire, Monmouthshire, Newport, Powys, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham.

In the first instance, you should make initial enquiries via the named School/academic supervisor for each funded KESS2 project. You must apply initially to the Doctor of Philosophy in Medicine identifying the KESS2 Scholarship you wish to be considered for.

If deemed suitable for the project, you will be invited to complete a KESS2 participant form which assesses eligibility for funding. You must also be able to provide supporting documentary evidence of your eligibility. Guidance on this requirement is outlined in the KESS2 Participant Form. Suitable applicants will be sent this form to complete following the School selection process. Further advice is available from the KESS2 team.

We reserve the right to close applications early should sufficient applications be received.

Funding opportunity provided by:

Eligible research programmes