Postgraduate research position – Probing the role of long non-coding RNA in myofibroblast differentiation

Background: Recent advances in RNA sequencing technology and epigenetics have allowed us to investigate the transcriptomic landscape of a cell in greater detail than ever before. This has revealed that the proportion of transcripts expressed by a cell that do not code for proteins (non-coding RNA) far exceeds previous estimations. The expression of the most numerous of these, long non-coding RNA, is closely linked to complexity of the organism and recently has been shown to play a key role in cellular differentiation. In this project, we propose to examine the role of long non-coding RNA in myofibroblast differentiation, a key process in wound healing, fibrosis and cancer. The presence of myofibroblasts in the microenvironment of a number of tumours is associated with aggressive disease, suggesting that targeting the mechanisms underlying this aberrant differentiation may be a viable novel therapeutic approach. In silico analysis reveals the existence of two novel putative lncRNA, VCAN-AS1 and VCAN–AS2, transcribed antisense to the mRNA coding for a key extracellular matrix protein, versican (VCAN), known to be involved in myofibroblast differentiation and tumour progression. As other antisense lncRNA are known to regulate their protein coding counterparts, in this project we will examine the expression of this transcript, and potentially other lncRNA of interest, and determine their role in modulating myofibroblast differentiation.

Hypothesis: LncRNA regulate myofibroblast differentiation and thereby influence stromal-tumour interactions

Methodology: A range of techniques will be employed including qPCR, qPCR arrays, tissue culture, immunocytochemistry, in situ hybridisation, siRNA and transfections and western blotting. You will work in a thriving research group with core technical support. Full training will be provided.

Experimental outline: The following studies will be performed:

  1. Examine the expression of VCAN AS1 and VCAN AS2 in a panel of cancer cell lines and fibroblasts.
  2. Carry out lncRNA expression profiling, including VCAN AS1/2 if detected, in fibroblasts and myofibroblasts.
  3. Examine subcellular localisation of lncRNA of interest using in situ hybridisation
  4. Knock down lncRNA of interest using siRNA and examine effects on protein coding genes involved in myofibroblast transdifferentiation such as alpha smooth muscle actin and VCAN.
  5. Test effects of modulating lncRNA expression in either tumour cells or fibroblasts (as appropriate) on cancer cell migration using mono- or co-culture models.
  6. Test the effects of agents known to promote myofibroblast differentiation, such as TGFβ, on VCAN AS and VCAN expression.

Supervisor: Dr Dan Lambert

Interested candidates should in the first instance contact Dr Dan Lambert 0114 271 7959,

How to apply

Please apply through our online postgraduate application system including the Scholarship Application section where you need to tick the ‘University Scholarships’ box. The form will ask you to summarise your research proposal in less than 800 words. If you are unsure about what to put in this section, please contact your prospective supervisor. Please name your supervisor and select their department (Clinical Dentistry) through the online form.

Deadline: Midnight 31st December 2016

Entry Requirements

Candidates must have a first or upper second class honors degree or significant research experience.


The Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Doctoral Academy Scholarships cover Home/EU fee and RCUK rate stipend for three years. Overseas students may apply but will need to fund the difference between the Home and Overseas fee from another source.

Proposed start date: October 2017


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