Using a novel 3D co-culture model to define the mechanistic effects of physical activity on cancer growth and metastasis 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

Secondary metastases account for 90% of cancer-related deaths, and 30-40% of cancers are preventable through dietary and lifestyle choices. Oesophageal cancer is the 6th most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK (CRUK, 2014) and has a poor survival rate (12%). Physical activity (PA) is defined as the contraction of SkM resulting in a quantifiable expenditure of energy (Caspersen et al., 1985) and is emerging as a palliative therapy in cancer patients (Mishra et al., 2012). Animal studies demonstrate dose-dependent protective effects of exercise against early tumour development (Goh et al., 2012). Regular PA significantly reduces oesophageal cancer risk (Moore et al., 2016). High- and moderate-intensity exercise exerts differential effects on inflammatory processes and immune cell mobilisation (Gleeson et al., 2011). However, little is known about the mechanistic effects of PA on tumour development and metastasis. 

Conventional 2D cell culture provides limited insight into the physiological tumour response to PA. Designing experiments to systematically evaluate this is problematic in cancer patients, logistically and ethically: by contrast, tissue engineering circumvents these issues. 

This project will involve the novel application in cancer research of a well-established tissue engineered 3D human skeletal muscle model (Martin et al., 2013) by co-culture with carcinogen-induced oesophageal epithelial cells cultured as 3D spheroids to study PA effects on tumour growth, metastasis and adaptive anti-cancer immune responses. This may illuminate the molecular basis of PA effects on oesophageal cancer growth and metastasis, providing scope to design exercise programmes as a form of adjunctive chemotherapy.


Primary supervisors: Dr. Mhairi Morris

Secondary supervisor: Professor Mark P Lewis

Find out more

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, immunology.

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/MPL/1