Using a novel 3D co-culture model to define metabolic flux maps of different cancer cell types in response to physical activity PhD

Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences
Entry requirements:
3 years
5 years
Reference number:
Start date:
01 April 2018
UK/EU fees:
International fees:
Application deadline:
28 February 2018



in the world for sport-related subjects

QS World University Rankings by subject 2017


in the UK for Sports Science

The Complete University Guide 2018


Loughborough University is a top-ten rated university in England for research intensity (REF2014) and an outstanding 66% of the work of Loughborough’s academic staff who were eligible to be submitted to the REF was judged as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, compared to a national average figure of 43%.

In choosing Loughborough for your research, you’ll work alongside academics who are leaders in their field. You will benefit from comprehensive support and guidance from our Doctoral College, including tailored careers advice, to help you succeed in your research and future career. 

Project detail

During exercise, and in the presence of sufficient oxygen, glucose is metabolised by muscle cells to produce pyruvate, a metabolic intermediate which is fed into the Kreb’s cycle in the mitochondria to produce large amounts of energy. Where oxygen is limited, for example during prolonged high intensity exercise, pyruvate is converted in the cytosol to lactate through a fermentation process involving the enzyme lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). By contrast, cancer cells always metabolise glucose through the lactate-producing pathway, regardless of the volume of oxygen available. This phenomenon, observed by Otto Warburg over 90 years ago, is known as aerobic glycolysis or “the Warburg effect”, and still remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in cancer biology. 

All tumour types display altered cellular energetics, however they also display great variability in the magnitude of lactate production. Moreover, whilst the amount of energy produced is lower through the lactate-producing pathway, the rate of energy production is much faster, with a net cumulative effect of producing similar amounts of energy. Moreover, the acidic microenvironment produced by lactate synthesis correlates with tumour invasiveness. 

The proposed project will look to quantify lactate production and produce metabolic flux maps in different cancer cell types under aerobic and anaerobic conditions by mimicking prolonged physical activity using an in vitro model of skeletal muscle. The data will be used to assess whether there are synergistic or deleterious effects on the rate of growth and invasive potential of cancer cells cultured in the presence of exercised skeletal muscle models.


Primary supervisor: Dr. Mhairi Morris

Secondary supervisor: Professor Mark P Lewis

Find out more

For further project details email Dr. Mhairi Morris or register your interest and ask us a question.

Further information about the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences can be found on our website.

Applications are invited from ambitious, self-motivated candidates to undertake a PhD in the field of musculoskeletal biology in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, who have at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree or equivalent in a biological or engineering related subject.

Loughborough University is one of the country’s leading university’s (Rank 7th in the Time Higher Education) and is world renowned for its research in sports related subjects (1st overall for sports related subjects in the QS world university rankings 2017).

Applicants will be joining a well-established research team working within the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, interested in the development of physiologically relevant models of skeletal muscle. Using Tissue Engineering applications, this research team has published extensively in the field of musculoskeletal biology.

Applications are invited from self-funded students who have an interest in research in the following areas:

  • Muscle – nerve interactions

  • Musculoskeletal disease

  • Models of exercise in tissue engineered muscle
  • Tissue engineered joints on a chip

Entry requirements

Applicants should have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2:1 honours degree (or equivalent) in sport and exercise science, human physiology, human biology, biochemistry or a related subject.

A relevant master's degree and / or experience in one or more of the following will be an advantage: Human biology, exercise physiology, biochemistry, systems biology, metabolomics.

All students must also meet the minimum English Language requirements.


Fees and funding


Tuition fees cover the cost of your teaching, assessment and operating University facilities such as the library, IT equipment and other support services. University fees and charges can be paid in advance and there are several methods of payment, including online payments and payment by instalment. Special arrangements are made for payments by part-time students.

This is an open call for candidates who are sponsored or who have their own funding. If you do not have funding, you may still apply, however Institutional funding is not guaranteed. Outstanding candidates (UK/EU/International) without funding will be considered for funding opportunities which may become available in the School.

How to apply

All applications should be made online. Under programme name, select Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences. Please quote reference number: SSEHS/MM/2