UCL Cancer Institute


PhD studentship: Analysis of the mechanisms of human natural killer cell transition

This project will investigate the step-wise progression of human natural killer lymphocytes (NK) from their resting state through tumour target cell conjugation to ultimate lysis

  • Primary supervisor: Prof Mark Lowdell
  • Secondary supervisors: Dr May Sabry

Closing date: Applications are CLOSED (Monday 28 September 2020)


Full project title: Analysis of the mechanisms of human natural killer cell transition from resting state to lytic function

This project will investigate the step-wise progression of human natural killer lymphocytes (NK) from their resting state through tumour target cell conjugation to ultimate lysis. The group has an established method for priming human NK cells which will be used to help dissect this pathway and determine whether it is a single sequence of steps or multiple potential steps leading to target cell lysis.

The project will involve aseptic processing of human blood samples and cell lines, cell isolation and sorting and high level flow cytometric analyses. Immunological functional assays including target cell conjugation and lysis, cytokine secretion and cell proliferation by flow cytometry, ELISA and immunofluorescence microscopy/confocal will be essential techniques. RNA extraction and gene profiling techniques will be used to identify target pathways which will be blocked to determine their roles in the NK lytic process. 

The applicant will help to establish a murine model of human NK cells using an immunodeficient mouse strain which is transgenic for human IL-15. This strain will be used to validate the in vitro findings in vivo. 

More detailed information about the research project is available on request from the principal supervisor: m.lowdell@ucl.ac.uk

Person specification


  • Minimum upper second class Honours Degree in an associated discipline, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard. 
  • Knowledge and practical experience of aseptic cell culture, immunomagnetic cell sorting, multiparametric flow cytometry and data analysis, RNA isolation and quality control. 
  • Preliminary knowledge of statistical analysis of parametric and non-parametric data 
  • Evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study. 
  • Ability to develop understanding of complex problems and apply in-depth knowledge to address them. 
  • Potential to develop expertise in new areas of the subject. 
  • Potential for innovation and initiative, and evidence of an ability to work independently. 
  • Ability to work as part of a multi-skilled team 
  • Willingness to work with animal models 
  • Effective communication skills in both written and spoken English. 


  • Experience with rodent models. 
  • Home Office personal licence for laboratory animal procedures. 

Students will also need to qualify as UK/EU fee payers and meet UCL general admissions criteria.

Duties and responsibilities


  • To apply highly specialist scientific skills and expertise to lead in the delivery of high quality research and the preparation of high-impact research publications. 
  • To keep abreast of current developments in this research area. 
  • To report research progress to the supervisory team, the Cancer Institute, and at scientific conferences and meetings. 
  • To work with other Scientists within the team as necessary. 
  • To work safely by adhering to all University policies and practices, including preparing and following laboratory risk assessments, and complying with Health and Safety policies, ethical approval processes and Human Tissue Act regulations. 

Analytical and Judgement Skills 

  • To demonstrate a high-level of technical and analytical skill to resolve highly complex scenarios, requiring analysis, interpretation and expert judgement to find the most appropriate solutions. 
  • To identify, interpret and integrate information from a wide variety of sources, and critically evaluate the quality and assumptions of these data. 
  • To show initiative and the ability to make decisions in areas where no previous work has been undertaken. 
  • To show awareness of your own developmental needs and undertake appropriate training where appropriate. 
  • To comply with professional codes of conduct. 


Research environment

This project will be conducted in the The UCL Cancer Institute laboratories on the Royal Free Hospital Campus. All of the facilities and equipment required to deliver this project are present on campus or within the state-of-the-art Cancer Institute on the main UCL campus. The Institute draws together talented scientists who are working together to translate research discoveries into developing kinder, more effective therapies for cancer patients. It is a Cancer Research UK and Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, and contains approximately 580 staff, including 120 PhD and MD (Res) students and 40 MSc students. Core facilities within the Institute include: Genomics Facility (gene expression microarrays); Proteomics Facility; Imaging and Cell Sorting (confocal, time-lapsed microscopy, MoFlo FACS); Pathology Suite (laser capture microdissection, tissue arrays); Experimental Imaging (with UCL Institute of Child Health); and Transgenesis. 


Students will need to qualify as UK/EU fee payers and meet UCL general admissions criteria.

To apply for this studentship, you must submit the following three documents:

1. Your full CV including: The names and contact details of two referees (at least one of which must be an academic reference from your previous educational institution), and, a short summary (<500 words) detailing how your experience and ability matches the project and the person specification. 

2. A single PDF file containing scans of your award certificate and transcripts showing your unit/module marks for all of your degrees, undergraduate and postgraduate. If any of your original documents are not in English you must submit an official English translation with them. 

3. An equal opportunities monitoring form (Word download). This form will be separated from your application before it is forwarded to shortlisters. By submitting this form you are giving us consent to use the data contained for quality and monitoring purposes. Data will be anonymised.  

These three documents must be emailed to ci.scholarships@ucl.ac.uk by Monday 28 September 2020 17:00 (BST). The subject line of your email should contain the studentship code 'Lowdell20-01' and your surname.

You must also contact your referees and ask them to submit their references by email to ci.scholarships@ucl.ac.uk from a verifiable academic or professional email address. The studentship code above and your surname must be in the email subject line.  

References must be received from your referees by Monday 5 October 2020 17:00 (BST). Please ensure that your referees have submitted references for you, as we will not chase missing references. Incomplete applications will not be forwarded to the Shortlisting Panel.  

Queries about the application procedure or recruitment process should be directed to Mariam Omar: ci.scholarships@ucl.ac.uk