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Wolfson College-David James PhD Studentship at the Department of Pharmacology

Applications are invited for a 4-year Wolfson College-David James PhD Studentship to conduct research in the Department of Pharmacology available from October 2020.  The Wolfson College-David James Studentship will be awarded on a competitive basis and applicants will be expected to demonstrate a strong academic background and an aptitude for research.                    

The studentship is funded by the Department of Pharmacology via the David James Studentship scheme and Wolfson College. The successful applicant will become a member of Wolfson College, which offers a lively and welcoming home to a diverse and cosmopolitan community of postgraduate and older (21+) undergraduate students.

This award will cover UK/EU-level University fees and a maintenance allowance at the RCUK rate. Information about University fees and standard maintenance costs for 2020/2021 is available here.

Wolfson College offers all of its PhD students up to three years of housing in reasonably priced student accommodation, provided they have met all the conditions of their offer and apply for accommodation by 15 July 2020. Detailed information here.

Dr David James Studentship

davidjamesBWDuring his life, Dr James was a well-respected Departmental Administrator. His legacy provides scholarships for the most gifted postgraduates to pursue focused and original research. The David James Studentship has provided full financial support for a number of PhD students within the Department since October 2011.

Via PhD studentships, the David James Fund is supporting the next generation of Cambridge pharmacologists, whose work will be crucial to developing better treatments for diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes and Crohn's disease.

Project details

The project will be based in the Department of Pharmacology and supervised by Dr Catherine Wilson ( and Prof. Laura Itzhaki (

Title: Development of novel anti-cancer therapeutics targeting Cyclin T1

The transcription factor c-Myc is ubiquitously deregulated in cancer. Identifying strategies to inhibit Myc is considered one of the highest priorities of the international cancer research community.

We have shown that Myc binds to a large set of genes common to all tissues that are involved in cell cycle entry, suggesting that Myc would be able to drive cell cycle progression in any type of cell. However, using a switchable mouse model, we found that despite acutely overexpressing Myc in all tissues, some tissues remained entirely resistant to cell cycle entry, due to an inability of ectopic Myc to activate efficient transcription of its target genes once bound. Further analysis established that Myc driven transcription, and consequently cell proliferation, is critically dependent on the level of Cyclin T1 (CCNT1) within a specific tissue 1, indicating that reduced levels of CCNT1 may be able to limit Myc’s oncogenic potential.

CCNT1 strongly associates with cyclin dependent kinase 9 (CDK9), to form the transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb) 2. P-TEFb phosphorylates serine 2 of the C-terminal domain of paused RNA PolII, leading to productive elongation and transcription. Suppression of transcriptional activation by Myc and inhibition of CCNT1 represents a sensitive and unexploited target.


The key aims of this project are to establish CCNT1 as a critical target for cancers and to provide a novel strategy for CCNT1 inhibition.

We will employ a variety of cellular techniques to establish the role of CCNT1 in cancer cells lines. We will also develop a new class of peptide-based “Polyproxin®” molecules designed to inhibit CCNT1 by targeting it for destruction via the cell’s degradation machineries.


1.         Bywater, M. J. et al. & Wilson, C. Reactivation of Myc transcription in the heart unlocks its proliferative capacity. Nat.      Comms. in press

2.         Jonkers, I. & Lis, J. T. Getting up to speed with transcription elongation by RNA polymerase II. Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 16, 167–176 (2015).


Step 1: Contact supervisor
To apply for this studentship, please send;

1. Your CV with full contact details of 2 academic referees.

2. A covering letter (max. two A4 pages) highlighting: (a) your research interests, (b) why you wish to undertake this particular PhD project, and (c) your career aspirations beyond the course by email to Ms Amparo Saez ( to arrive no later than 12 Midday on 16th March 2020 at the latest.

Please quote ref PL22560 in any correspondence on this vacancy.

Step 2: University Application
If the supervisors wish to support you for consideration in the competition for this studentship, they will ask you to apply formally to the University using the online application form (Applicant Portal) selecting the appropriate course:

Course:  Pharmacology. Course Code BLPH22

List Dr Wilson and Prof Itzhaki in the Research section of the form plus also add the project title.  If you have already applied to Pharmacology in this admissions round then please email and we will explain the procedure for reapplication.

Online applications with ALL supporting documentation to be submitted by 

12 Midday on Monday 16th March 2020 at the latest.

Interview dates to be confirmed. 

The University values diversity and is committed to equality of opportunity.

Applications on the Applicant Portal will cost you £65 per 3 applications