UCL Cancer Institute


PhD studentship: Developing patient-near organotypic models of human osteosarcoma

  • Primary supervisor: Sibylle Mittnacht, Professor of Cell and Molecular Cancer Biology, UCL Cancer Institute 
  • Coinvestigator, Co-supervisor: Wenhui Song, Professor of Biomaterials and Medical, Royal Free Hospital & School of Medicine, Centre for Biomaterials in Surgical Reconstruction and Regeneration 

This is a 4-year PhD studentship funded by the Bone Cancer Research Trust, which covers tuition fees at Home UK rate including a stipend of £20,000 per year. 


A Bone Cancer Research Trust funded PhD studentship is available at the UCL Cancer Institute collaborative with the Centre for Biomaterials in Surgical Reconstruction and Regeneration, Division of Surgery & Interventional Science. 
Overarching trajectory of the work is to generate a realistic patient-near organotypic platform for the study of bone cancer initiation and progression and the development of new and more effective treatment options.  
Patient-near models of cancer where organotypic interactions are faithfully modelled are of paramount importance to understand cancer biology and therapy response. Such models have specific importance in rare cancers where robust clinical trials are difficult to conduct and limited patient materials are available. The project seeks to exploit front-line tissue engineering expertise at the UCL Centre for Biomaterials in Surgical Reconstruction and Regeneration in 3D scaffold- guided de novo growth and long-term culture of human bone, to build an organotypic ex vivo platform for the study of Osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma has remained a disease with significant and recognised unmet medical need which disproportionally claims the lives in children and young adults. Considerable evidence from mouse models point to the important role of the stromal environment in osteosarcoma growth and development. 
The project will use core strategies of tissue engineering, including 3D bioprinting, tissue regeneration on 3D printed scaffolds, cell engineering including cell modification with biosensors that report cell fates and deploy single cell resolved RNA sequencing and multidimensional immune-histology, in order to trace molecular interaction networks between bone and cancer tissue.  The proposed work addresses a recognised technology gap in Osteosarcoma research that is limiting the study of this disease and therapeutics discovery. 
The project will suit candidates with interest and, ideally, specialist experience or training in tissue engineering or cancer pathology. The successful candidate will have an upper 2nd or higher Honours Degree in natural sciences, biomedical science and engineering, tissue engineering or related discipline. Relevant additional training and prior laboratory experience will be an advantage. More detailed information about the research project is available on request from s.mittnacht@ucl.ac.uk and w.song@ucl.ac.uk  

Person specification


  • Minimum upper second class Honours Degree in natural sciences, biomedical science and engineering, tissue engineering or related discipline, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard. 
  • Knowledge of life sciences, as required for this project.  
  • Preliminary knowledge of research techniques. 
  • 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. 
  • Effective communication skills in both written and spoken English. 


  • Relevant laboratory research experience, including tissue culture sterile working techniques, experience in tissue and cell engineering 
  • Research experience in biomaterials, hydrogels and nanocomposites, 3D printing, fabrication and characterisation of materials and scaffolds  
  • Experience of analytical techniques such as, tissue analysis using immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry, or transcriptomics 
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 Song, and Mittnacht teams 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 guidelines. 

Analytical and Judgement Skills 

  • To demonstrate high-level of technical and analytical skill to resolve complex problems, 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. 

The project is a collaborative project between teams at the UCL Cancer Institute and the UCL Centre for Biomaterials in Surgical Reconstruction and Regeneration, Division of Surgery & Interventional Science. 
The UCL Cancer Institute is dedicated to consolidate cancer research at UCL and to promote links with our partner teaching hospitals, in order to support excellence in basic and translational cancer studies. The Institute draws together talented scientists working together to translate research discoveries into developing better, more effective therapies for cancer patients. It holds Cancer Research UK and Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre of excellence status, housing approximately 580 staff, including 80 PhD and MD (Res) students. Research is supported through state-of-the-art platform facilities including the Genomics Facility supporting next generation sequencing, including single cell resolved technologies; a dedicated bioinformatics unit; the Proteomics Facility, Imaging and Cell Sorting (supporting automated, confocal and time-lapsed microscopy, MoFlo and Flow Cytometrie); the Pathology Suite (supporting laser capture microdissection, tissue arrays and immune-histology services), the  Experimental Imaging unit and Transgenesis services.
The UCL Centre for Biomaterials in Surgical Reconstruction and Regeneration is internationally renowned for the development of innovative materials and its expertise in the engineering of synthetic tissues/organs. The centre has state-of-the-art facilities including a polymer chemistry laboratory and biomanufacturing laboratory equipped with custom-made 3D bioprinters, and a wide range of physico-chemical testing and characterization equipment housed within a GMP/GLP environment.  


Closing date: 25 March 2021

Students will need to qualify as UK/EU fee payers and meet UCL general admissions criteriaThis studentship is subject to confirmation of funding from CRUK

To apply for this studentship, you must submit only three documents. 

  1. Submit the following three documents. 
    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 should then be emailed to ci.scholarships@ucl.ac.uk. by 17:00 (GMT) Thursday 25 March 2021. Please write 'Mittnacht 21-01' in the subject line of the email. 

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 17:00 (GMT) on 31 March 2021. 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.