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Early Stage Researcher (PhD position) opportunity in Synthetic Glycobiology - ESR3: Superselective targeting of cancer cells with lectins on polymer scaffolds

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    The University of Leeds
    ChemistryPhysical chemistry
    EngineeringBiomedical engineering
    First Stage Researcher (R1)
    07/01/2019 23:00 - Europe/London
    United Kingdom › Leeds
    H2020 / Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions
    synBIOcarb ESR3

Are you keen to progress research in glycoscience at the interface between chemistry, biology and physics, in the first four years of your research career and based outside the UK? Do you want to further your career and attain a PhD in one of the UK’s leading research intensive universities?

synBIOcarb is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network. It brings together 14 leading European partners in a transnational network, implementing a multidisciplinary and intersectorial research and training programme between the academic and the industrial partners in the fields of synthetic glycobiology.

Together, we will provide 15 early stage researchers (ESRs) with advanced scientific training in chemical synthesis, protein engineering, biophysics, cell biology and analytical device technologies that underpin the development and exploitation of glycoscience for diagnostics and targeted drug delivery. Each ESR will contribute to one, or more, of four thematic work packages that have been designed to progress the state of the art in Synthetic Glycobiology.

As an Early Stage Researcher in Leeds, you will undertake research in the development of a lectin-based method for the superselective targeting of cancer cells.

A major challenge in all cancer therapies is to selectively target tumour cells whilst leaving the healthy cells unaffected. Current treatment methods often produce significant side effects because they are unable to identify tumour cells with sufficient selectivity. The aim of this research project will be to develop a new generation of probes that are able to recognise specific cell types, such as cancer cells, with exquisite selectivity.

We have recently demonstrated that multivalent probes based on a flexible polymer scaffold can effectively discriminate surfaces based on the density of surface receptors (Dubacheva et al, PNAS, 2015, 112:5579). This ability is now termed ‘superselective targeting’ as it is superior to the conventional targeting methods which can discriminate cells by receptor type but not by the density of a given receptor. Superselective targeting is of particular interest for cancer cells where carbohydrate epitopes (glycan antigens) also present on normal cells are expressed at higher densities.

In this project, you will develop ‘superselective’ probes based on lectins (glycan-binding proteins) and polymer scaffolds and use these to demonstrate the superselective recognition of cancer cells. You will combine advanced protein biochemistry and bioconjugation techniques to engineer lectins and multivalent probes that recognise specifically the tumour-associated glycan antigens overexpressed on cancer cells. You will also design model cell surfaces that present the glycan antigens at defined densities, and use biophysical and cell biology techniques to evaluate superselective recognition of model cell surfaces and live cells. This project thus requires multiple disciplines to work hand in hand, and the synBiocarb network will provide the ideal training environment.

By demonstrating feasibility on selected cancer cells, this project has the potential to transform the new superselectivity concept into a technology that can be applied for targeted drug delivery, cell sorting and in vivo imaging applications.

The successful candidate will participate in the network’s training activities and work placements at the laboratories of the synBIOcarb academic and industrial teams. Regular meetings and workshops within the EU-funded synBIOcarb Innovative Training Network will supplement the training and support provided at the University of Leeds. Practical scientific training will be complemented by a coordinated programme of industry-relevant transferable skills that will prepare the ESRs for future careers in the medical technologies sector.

To meet the requirements of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network, you will be an early stage researcher within the first four years of your research career, have not yet been awarded a doctoral degree (PhD), and have not lived or carried out your main activity (work/study) in the UK for more than 12 months during the past three years.


This position is for 36 months. The Early Stage Researcher will be contractually employed by the University of Leeds. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Early Stage Researcher living and mobility allowance is fixed at €48,452 per annum (plus family allowance if applicable). This amount will be subject to tax and employee’s National Insurance deductions, and will be paid in UK Sterling (£) using an appropriate conversion rate.

Selection process

Application procedure

  • You are required to apply to this post via the application webpage. Applications should be submitted on the advertised closing date.
  • In the supporting statements section, it is important to give specific examples for how you meet each criterion. As part of the online process, you will also need to upload a cover letter outlining why you want to join the project, a CV including the names and contact details of at least 2 references, and transcripts of your university record.
  • Informal inquiries can be made by email to r.richter@leeds.ac.uk indicating reference ‘synBIOcarb ESR3’ in the subject.

Additional comments

This post will be based in the laboratory of Dr. Ralf Richter which belongs to the School of Biomedical Sciences (Faculty of Biological Sciences), the School of Physics (Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences), and the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology. You will collaborate with the laboratory of Prof. Bruce Turnbull in the School of Chemistry which is also part of the Astbury Centre.

Offer Requirements


Applicants should bring skills/qualifications and meet eligibility criteria as follows:

  • Have a Diploma and/or a Master Degree in physical chemistry, biochemistry, biomedical engineering or a closely related discipline.
  • Have less than 4 years research experience at the signature of the contract (measured from the time the Master’s degree has been obtained).
  • Not have a PhD already.
  • Not have resided or carried out main activity in United Kingdom for more than 12 months in the last 3 years immediately prior to the reference recruitment date.
  • Excellent knowledge of the English language (spoken and written / proficiency level)
  • A keen interest in multidisciplinary work.
  • Training on required laboratory techniques will be provided through the synBIOcarb network. However, a working experience in protein chemistry, surface biofunctionalization, biosurface analysis or cell biology is an advantage.

Work location(s)
1 position(s) available at
The University of Leeds
United Kingdom

EURAXESS offer ID: 356293


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