15 PhD student positions in Horizon EU funded Innovative Training Network in cancer prevention


Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Innovative Training Network (ITN)


Innovative strategies for cancer prevention with focus on sex hormone signaling and chronic inflammation


Incidence and prevalence of many cancer types are substantially increasing worldwide[1] for three main reasons: 

  • increased life span and aging populations, 
  • improved methods of early detection, and 
  • increased survival of cancer patients. 

Changes in known and unknown environmental factors modify the age-specific incidences of cancers. However, more sophisticated and expensive treatments cannot be afforded by all societies, increasing the urgency of boosting efforts in cancer prevention. This can be realized in three ways:

  1. primary cancer prevention, aimed at reducing overall cancer incidence at the population level, assessing the impact of life style, occupational/environmental hazards, and genetic risk factors in parallel with large-scale screening and vaccination efforts;
  2. secondary cancer prevention, aimed at early detection of premalignant and confined malignant lesions, and identification of high risk lesions for removal and/or suppression;
  3. tertiary cancer prevention, aimed at preventing cancer recurrence in patients after treatment of a primary cancer.

This Innovative Training Network aims to establish an interdisciplinary PhD program in cancer prevention focused on two key determinants of cancer risk: 

  • sex hormone signaling and
  • chronic inflammation.

Both can be significantly affected by exogenous factors such as endocrine disruptors, cigarette smoke, and sunlight, as well as intrinsic changes occurring with aging. Genetic influences on cancer risk, as they relate specifically to endocrine and inflammation signaling pathways, will be considered by analysis of a unique resource of identical and dizygotic twin cohorts. In addition, novel chemoprevention approaches will be assessed using chemically-developed hormone and inflammation inhibitors. Finally, mechanistic studies will exploit innovative preclinical mouse models developed by the participating labs. 

Through early stage researcher (ESR) co-supervision, interactive meetings and workshops, we will develop an effective cancer prevention strategy of major societal impact together with non-academic partners for: (i) novel biomarker identification and drug development; (ii) science communication efforts and public outreach.

ITN Participating Laboratories and Research Projects

This training network is based on the unifying guiding hypothesis that sex hormone action (Work Package 1) and chronic inflammation (Work Package 2) are important determinants of increased cancer risk in aging populations, and that insights in these fields can be used for novel translational applications (Work Package 3)As illustrated in the figure, we will focus on breast and skin cancer as benchmarks of major clinical significance, in organs with reproductive and non-reproductive functions, respectively. The enrolled PhD students (ESRs) will address the links between sex hormone signaling, persistent chronic inflammation, and genetic and behavioral/environmental cancer risk factors. They will devote most of their time and efforts to develop an in depth research project in one of the main participating laboratories under the direct supervion of one of the Principla Investigators (PIs). However, they are expected to further develop and carry out some of their research work in one or more of the other participating laboratories, under the joint supervision of other PIs. On top of rigorous research training, an essential objective of the program is for students to develop scientific communication and outreach skills, which may lead to new career opportunities in academia or the private sector. 

Summary of CANCERPREV research topics and interactions. CANCERPREV studies breast and skin cancer as benchmarks of cancer development in organs with reproductive or non-reproductive functions (B). The unifying hypothesis is that deregulation of sex hormone signaling (WP1) and inflammation (WP2) play key roles in susceptibility and premalignant to malignant conversion of both tumor types, and that insights can be exploited clinically (WP3).

Participating laboratories and available research projects

Cathrin Brisken – Laboratory of breast carcinogenesis, EPFL, Switzerland – PhD projects 1 – 2

G. Paolo Dotto – Laboratory of skin cancer prevention, University of Lausanne, Switzerland – PhD projects 3 – 4

Kathryn Hess – Laboratory for topology and neuroscience, EPFL, Switzerland –  PhD project 5

Jaakko Kaprio – Laboratory of Genetic Epidemiology, FIMM, HILIFE, University of Helsinki, Finfland –  PhD project 6

Erwin Wagner – Genes and Diseases laboratory, University of Vienna Medical School, Austria – PhD project 7, 8

Wim Declercq – VIB Center for Inflammation Research, Gent University, Belgium – PhD project 9, 10

Brent Page – Laboratory of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery, Karolinska Institute, Sweden – PhD project 11  

Michael Altun, Laboratory of biotechnology and drug discovery, Karolinska Institute, Sweden – PhD project 12

Emmy Verschuren – Laboratory of Lung Cancer Model Systems, FIMM, HILIFE, University of Helsinki, Finland – PhD project 13

Giovanna Chiorino – Laboratory of Cancer Genomics, Fondazione Edo e Elvo Tempia, Biella, Italy- PhD project 14, 15

ITN – How to apply


  • Master degree or equivalent in molecular and cellular biology, genetics / epigenetics, biotechnology, biostatistics / mathematics
  • Fluency in English
  • Candidates from any country are welcome and women and minority students are encouraged to apply. 

How to apply

To apply, please fill out the enclosed application form and send it, together with a motivation letter, CV and copies of academic degree, as a single PDF file, to: magali.frainier@epfl.ch


December 15 2019

Selection procedure

The CancerPrev selection committee, composed of the participating PIs, will review and rank all applications and candidates passing the first round of selection will be invited for an oral interview, either by Skype or in person. At that time, they will be asked by the interviewers to prepare a short written document on a paper / topic of relevance to their projected future work.

Starting dates are flexible, earliest date is March 1st 2019.