PhD Scholarship in Immunomodulatory properties of natural anti-cancer compounds

This project will investigate two natural compounds (Xanthatin and L-carnosine) that have the potential to modulate immune responses and thereby effectively contribute to cancer treatment.

The value of the Scholarship is equivalent to an RMIT full Scholarship. This Scholarship will be available for 3.5 years.

Applications are now open.

Position will remain open until filled.

2 available.

Applicants need to have a background in immunology, genetics or bioinformatics. They must have completed a relevant Bachelor’s Degree and Honour’s or Master’s. 

Desirable criteria:

  • Practical experience and conceptual background in cellular immunology.
  • Experience in tissue culture.

To apply, please submit the following documents to Prof. Magdalena Plebanski via

  • A copy of electronic academic transcripts
  • A CV that includes any publications/awards and the contact details of two referees.

The immune system plays a pivotal role in cancer prevention, development and therapy. We are currently interested in two natural compounds that have the potential to modulate immune responses and thereby effectively contribute to cancer treatment.

1)        Xanthatin is the primary medicinal component of Xanthium strumarium (cocklebur) commonly used in Chinese medicine. It has a wide range of reported biological activities, including anti-bacterial, -viral, -fungal and anti-cancer activity. 

2)        L-carnosine is a dipeptide molecule (beta-alanyl-L-histidine) with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-glycation and chelating properties. It is traditionally used in exercise physiology to increase performance and is available over the counter as a food supplement. Animal studies suggest carnosine may also possess therapeutic benefits for many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Aims: We are interested in the potential anti-cancer roles of these compounds via modulation of the immune system, with particular focus on effector (Teff) and regulatory (Treg) T cell populations.

This project aims to identify changes in expression of key molecules that may be important to ovarian cancer immunotherapy and have wider implications for the treatment of chronic disease.   

Hypothesis: Xanthatin and/or carnosine modulate anti-cancer immune responses to promote T cell-mediated tumour clearance. 

Methods: The laboratory uses world-class big-data omics analysis of blood immune cells, including RNAseq, epigenetics, multicolour flowcytometry (up to 27 simultaneous markers on cells), cell sorting, multiplex cytokine analysis (Luminex) as well as classical immunological techniques, e.g. ELISA, ELISPOT, immunohistochemistry, proliferation and functional T cell assays. 

The PhD candidate: The preferred PhD candidate will have completed an Honours or Masters degree in immunology, microbiology, bioinformatics, biostatistics or a related discipline.   

References:  [1].  Han S et al. (2019) Front Oncol 9: 279 [2].  Hipkiss A and Gaunitz F (2014) Amino Acids 46:327 [3].  Liu M et al (2019) J Cell Mol Med 23(6): 4301

For further inquiries please contact Distinguished Professor Magdalena Plebanski (

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.