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Elisabeth Phillips

Research Fellow

BSc(Hons)(Sheffield) PhD(Birmingham)

Tel +64 3 364 0557

Research interests

Dr Elisabeth Phillips is an emerging cancer researcher who has research interests in cancer, particularly the tumour microenvironment and therapy resistance.

Cancer does not develop in isolation. A milieu of other cells, extracellular matrix component and physical stressors surround cancers as they develop and grow, creating a permissive environment for the initiation, growth and metastasis of cancer. Adipose tissue is present within the tumour microenvironment of several invasive cancers. Adipocytes have the ability to secrete a plethora of chemical signals and can form physical interactions with surrounding cells. This 'cross-talk' between cancer and adipocytes enables change of phenotype of both the cancer and the adipocytes, which is thought to be exacerbated under obesogenic conditions. The adipocytes within the tumour microenvironment that display this activated phenotype are named Cancer Associated Adipocytes (CAA).

Our research has used cutting-edge molecular techniques to probe this dynamic cellular interaction in vitro and in clinical samples, with the aim of finding underlying mechanisms that have the potential to be exploited for targeted therapy.

We have used in vitro models with primary human breast adipocytes cultured together with cancer cells and used a combination of OMICs technologies to investigate changes within the breast cancer cells. We have also used mass-spectrometry based proteomics to profile the changes that occur in the secreted factors released by the adipocytes after. Using this data, we are working to identify how to exploit CAAs to target tumours more effectively through studying the pathways that are fundamental to their pro-tumour functions in vitro and in people with cancer through clinical samples.

In addition, we, in collaboration with Dr Khoon Lim (Christchurch REgenerative and Tissue Engineering group), are further developing an in vitro, 3-dimensional model that we will use to investigate the CAA: Cancer interaction using a combination of cell and molecular biology approaches.

Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD students

Student: Eleanor Burgess
Thesis title: The role of ascorbate in glioma
Supervisors: Gabi Dachs, Elisabeth Philies, Bridget Robinson and Margreet Vissers

Student: Rebekah Crake
Thesis title: Local and systemic effects of adipocyte-secreted factors in breast cancer 
Supervisors: Margaret Currie, Elisabeth Phillips, Matthew Strother, Bridget Robinson

Student: Jessika Wise
Thesis title: 3D breast tumour models for drug discovery
Supervisors: Elisabeth Phillips, Khoon Lim, Margaret Currie and Tim Woodfield

Completed PhD students

Student: Christina Wohlrab
Thesis title: The role of ascorbate in controlling hypoxia factors in renal cell carcinoma 
Supervisors: Gabi Dachs, Elisabeth Phillips, Bridget Robinson, Margreet Vissers
Graduated: 2018

Completed MSc student

Student: Mohini Puri
Thesis title: Role of cancer associated adipocytes (CAA) and tumour associated collagen structures (TACS) in breast cancer cell invasion and metastasis 
Supervisors: Margaret Currie, Elisabeth Phillips
Graduated: 2019

Completed BBiomedSc(Hons) students

Student: Rebekah Crake
Thesis title: Exploring molecular links between obesity and breast cancer 
Supervisors: Logan Walker, Elisabeth Phillips, Margaret Currie
Graduated: 2015

Student: Morgan Jones
Thesis title: Does fat provide energy for breast tumour cell invasion and metastasis? 
Supervisors: Margaret Currie, Elisabeth Phillips, Mark Hampton
Graduated: 2015

Student: Anishah Mandani
Thesis title: Development of a metabolic syndrome model of breast cancer 
Supervisors: Gabi Dachs, Elisabeth Phillips, Margaret Currie
Graduated: 2015


Major, G., Ahn, M., C, W.-W., Santos, M., Wise, J., Phillips, E., … Woodfield, T., & Lim, K. S. (2024). Programming temporal stiffness cues within extracellular matrix hydrogels for modelling cancer niches. Materials Today Bio, 25, 101004. doi: 10.1016/j.mtbio.2024.101004 Journal - Research Article

Mekhileri, N. V., Major, G., Lim, K., Mutreja, I., Chitcholtan, K., Phillips, E., Hooper, G., & Woodfield, T. (2023). Biofabrication of modular spheroids as tumour-scale microenvironments for drug screening. Advanced Healthcare Materials, 12, 2201581. doi: 10.1002/adhm.202201581 Journal - Research Article

Symonds, E., Hally, K., Smith, R., Brown, A., Currie, M., Phillips, E., … Dennett, E., Meredith, I., & Danielson, K. (2022, August). Messengers in the microenvironment: The role of extracellular vesicles in fat graft retention for breast reconstruction. Verbal presentation at the Cancer Satellite Meeting: Queenstown Research Week, Queenstown, New Zealand. Conference Contribution - Verbal presentation and other Conference outputs

Crake, R. L. I., Burgess, E. R., Wiggins, G. A. R., Magon, N. J., Das, A. B., Vissers, M. C. M., Morrin, H. R., Royds, J. A., Slatter, T. L., Robinson, B. A., Phillips, E., & Dachs, G. U. (2022). Ascorbate content of clinical glioma tissues is related to tumour grade and to global levels of 5-hydroxymethyl cytosine. Scientific Reports, 12, 14845. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-19032-8 Journal - Research Article

Burgess, E. R., Crake, R. L. I., Phillips, E., Morrin, H. R., Royds, J. A., Slatter, T. L., Wiggins, G. A. R., Vissers, M. C. M., Robinson, B. A., & Dachs, G. U. (2022). Increased ascorbate content of glioblastoma is associated with a suppressed hypoxic response and improved patient survival. Frontiers in Oncology, 12, 829524. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2022.829524 Journal - Research Article

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