Doctoral scholarship holder to study the epigenetic landscapes of histopathological growth patterns in colorectal cancer liver metastasis

Updated: about 2 months ago

Department: Molecular Imaging – Pathology – Radiotherapy – Oncology
Regime Full-time

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The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences is looking for a full-time (100%) doctoral scholarship holder to study the epigenetic landscapes of histopathological growth patterns in colorectal cancer liver metastasis.


This PhD scholarship clinical research allows young researchers to prepare a PhD thesis in the field of molecular oncology, and particularly the study of colorectal cancer liver metastases with different growth patterns. Metastasis is the process by which cancer cells from a primary tumor can travel through the blood to other organs and form a second tumor. About one in four patients with colon cancer will experience metastases in the liver. All too often, patients die as a result of liver metastases. We do not yet know enough about how cancer cells form a metastasis in the liver. By looking at liver metastases with a microscope, we have observed that there are two patterns of tumor growth in the liver. We can determine these growth patterns when the metastatic lesion in the liver is removed by a surgeon and have found that one growth pattern is associated with a more favorable outcome for the patient when compared to the other. Although a colon cancer develops as a result of gene mutations, the behavior of a tumor afterwards is controlled by additional changes within cancer cells that control how genes are turned on and off. We call these 'epigenetic' changes. We think the epigenetic characteristics of cancer cells that form the two distinct growth patterns of liver metastases are different. We will investigate this in liver metastases from patients with colorectal cancer as well as in preclinical models using state of the art technologies such as single cell RNA- and ATAC-sequencing and functional validation experiments in patient derived tumor organoids. This will give us a better understanding of how the cancer cells are able to form a metastasis and thus allow us to think about treatments that are better adapted to each of the two growth patterns. This will eventually lead to a more effective treatment for patients with liver metastases.

As this project entails a collaboration between Antwerp University and McGill University (Montreal, Canada), an international expert group of (co)promotors with a large track-record in this field will guide the PhD student through this endeavor. Results of this research will be published in peer reviewed international journals. You will be encouraged to attend doctoral training courses organized by the University Antwerp or other institutions to include relevant master course units, as well as to engage in a research stay abroad, particularly in Montreal, Canada.


  • You hold a master’s degree recognized by the EU (or you will have obtained it by the time you start working) in one of the following disciplines: Medicine, Biomedical Sciences, Biology, Biotechnology or Pharmaceutical Sciences or equal.
  • You can demonstrate excellent study results.
  • Your research qualities are in line with the University of Antwerp’s faculty and university research policies and guidelines.
  • You act with attention to quality, integrity, creativity, and cooperation.
  • You show strong interest oncology and basic research.
  • You are hands-on, reflecting a practical mindset.
  • You have good knowledge on (statistical) data analysis, preferentially working in R or Python.
  • You are solution-oriented and a critical thinker.
  • You have excellent writing and communication skills; excellent command of academic English (written, oral and comprehension) is highly desirable.
  • You are able to work in a competitive research field and stick to deadlines.
  • You can work independently and at the same time be part of a team.

What we offer

  • We offer a doctoral scholarship in a vibrant environment.
  • We offer a full PhD trajectory with financial support for 4 years. Via grants for research projects, additional financial resources will be drawn under the guidance of your supervisor and the research team.
  • The planned start date is as soon as possible, aiming for March 2024.
  • Your monthly scholarship amount is calculated according to the scholarship amounts  for doctoral scholarship holders on the pay scales for Contract Research Staff (Dutch: Bijzonder Academisch Personeel, BAP).
  • You will do most of your work at the Antwerp University and the Antwerp University Hospital in Edegem, Belgium in a dynamic and stimulating working environment.

Want to apply?

  • You can apply for this vacancy through the University of Antwerp’s online job application platform up to and including 29 February 2024 (by midnight Brussels time). Click on the 'Apply' button and complete the online application form. Be sure to include the following attachments:
  • The selection committee will review all of the applications as soon as possible after the application deadline. As soon as a decision has been made, we will inform you about the next steps in the selection procedure.
  • If you have any questions about the online application form, please check the frequently asked questions  or send an email to [email protected] . If you have any questions about the job itself, please contact Prof. Steven Van Laere ([email protected] ) or Dr. Peter Vermeulen ([email protected] ).

The University of Antwerp received the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research Award  for its HR policy. We are a sustainable, family-friendly organisation which invests in its employees’ growth. We encourage diversity  and attach great importance to an inclusive working environment and equal opportunities, regardless of gender identity, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age. We encourage people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse characteristics to apply.

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