Ashley Sunderland

Ashley Sunderland


I am a PhD student in the Brain Metastasis Research Group in the Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St James’. I received a First Class MSci (Hons) in Biomedicine from Lancaster University in 2015, before moving to the University of Leeds in 2016 to begin my PhD. My PhD project focuses on identifying the molecular mechanisms of breast cancer cell dormancy in the brain. I began my PhD under the supervision of Dr Mihaela Lorger, Prof Valerie Speirs and Dr Tereza Andreou, later coming under additional supervision by Dr Alastair Droop. 

Professional memberships:

  • Member of the Royal Society of Biology (elected 2012)
  • Member of the British Association for Cancer Research (elected 2016)
  • Member of the European Association for Cancer Research (elected 2016)
  • Member of the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland (elected 2017)


Research interests

Cancer dormancy is a phenomenon describing the extended period of time in which disseminated tumour cells remain asymptomatic and undetectable, followed by potentially lethal metastatic resurgence. In breast cancer, which accounts for 25% of all female cancer cases, the chance of developing brain metastases (BrMs) is 15-30% and the shortfall in effective therapies represents a significant clinical burden. We hypothesise that a deeper understanding of dormancy mechanisms may offer a novel therapeutic approach to the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, either through chronic maintenance of dormancy or its induction in established cancer lesions. We therefore aim to identify the mechanisms of breast cancer cell dormancy in the brain to expose exploitable molecular targets for therapeutic purposes. To this end, we use an in vivo model of breast cancer brain metastases in order to generate dormant and proliferating breast cancer cell populations for detailed analyses of functionally implicated molecular players and pathways. My PhD project therefore has three core aims:

  1. To identify the molecular differences between dormant and proliferating breast cancer cells in vivo by gene expression profiling and bioinformatics analysis;
  2. To identify genes and signalling pathways functionally implicated in breast cancer cell dormancy in the brain;
  3. To characterise the microenvironment of dormant cancer cells in the brain

For further information regarding the Brain Metastasis Research Group, please check here.


  • MSci Biomedicine