Project code



School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences

Start dates

February and October

Application deadline

Open all year round

This project is now closed. The details below are for information purposes only.
View our current projects here.

This is a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD studentship. The project is supervised by Dr Qian An.

Breast cancer, along with lung cancer and melanoma, is one of the most aggressive human cancers in terms of developing brain metastasis, a condition which typically has a very poor prognosis. The negativity of the prognosis is mainly due to the presence of the blood–brain barrier (B-BB) that prevents a large number of antineoplastic agents from entering the brain.

However, previously published data has shown that tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) can induce apoptosis (cell death) by targeting mitochondria in glioma, metastatic melanoma, lung and colorectal cancer cells. To date, the anti-cancer activity of TCAs in breast cancer cells has not been reported.

The aim of this PhD project is to investigate the activities of TCAs in breast cancer cells and evaluate potential drug repurposing for the treatment of breast-to-brain metastases.

The work will include:

  • Analysis of cell viability, cytotoxicity and apoptosis activation using the ApoTox-Glo Triplex Assay
  • Exposure of a number of breast cancer cell lines and normal breast epithelial primary cultures to amitriptyline, nortriptyline and norclomipramine (a metabolic product of clomipramine in the brain) followed
  • Drug activity in each cell line will be assessed by the inhibitory concentration 50 (IC50) value
  • establishing the possible impact of TCAs on mitochondria, through the analysis of activity in individual mitochondrial respiratory chain complexes, mitochondrial Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) levels and membrane potential
  • The investigation of of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variations as potential biomarkers to assess drug sensitivity

Fees and funding

Self-funded PhD students only. PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the Government Doctoral Loan.

Bench fees (in GBP)

Year 1: £10000

Year 2: £11000

Year 3: £9500

Total: £30500

Entry requirements

  • A good honours degree or equivalent in a relevant subject or a master’s degree in an appropriate subject.
  • Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. All applicants are subject to interview.
  • English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Make an enquiry

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

To start your application, or enquire further about the process involved, please contact Dr Qian An ( quoting both the project code PHBM4751019 and the project title.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. 

You can also visit our How to Apply pages to get a better understanding of how the PhD application process works.

Interview date: TBC

October start

Apply now

February start

Apply now