£6,000 FindAPhD Scholarship | APPLICATIONS CLOSING SOON! £6,000 FindAPhD Scholarship | APPLICATIONS CLOSING SOON!

Elphinstone Scholarship - Salmonella Toxin: A New Cancer Therapeutic Tool

   School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

About the Project

The use of natural toxins to treat cancer is not a novel idea and some toxin-derived drugs like Paclitaxel are well established in the clinic and more drugs are in development. All these treatments are effective in controlling tumour cell growth, unfortunately, they have significant toxicity toward healthy cells. For decades, researchers all over the world had tried to find the “magic bullet” that can discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells to target these treatments specifically to cancer cells and reduce their toxicity.

All cells present on their surface proteins with sugar molecules attached to them and recently it has been found that cancer cells have different ways to attach these sugars. These differences have been already used in cancer diagnosis and prognosis, but they can also be used to specifically direct drugs toward cancer. Intriguingly, one powerful toxin produced by some strains of a Salmonella enterica uses some of the sugars to attach and penetrate the cells.

 In this project, we will investigate the possibility to exploit the component of the salmonella toxin  as a drug delivery system able to selectively target cancer cells by evaluating the toxicity of nTT toward a panel of tumour cell lines. We will also design different ways to attach a payload (drug, imaging moiety, theranostic agent) to the toxin component to specifically deliver them to cancer cells. Eventually, we will also engineer its sequence to improve specificity and selectivity towards tumour cells.

This is a cross-disciplinary project involving elements of molecular biology, drug discovery and organic chemistry. In this project, you will gain experience in wide range of techniques such as general microbiology, cell culture, molecular biology, protein expression and purification, fluorescent and confocal microscopy, flow cytometry techniques. You will also learn about bioconjugation chemistry and chemical characterization by LC-MS. 

Informal enquiries are encouraged, please contact the lead supervisor Dr Massimiliano Baldassarre () for further information.

Essential background of student:

Applicants should hold a 1st Class UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Those with a 2:1 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) may be considered, provided they have (or are expected to achieve) a Distinction or Commendation at Master’s level.


This project will be based within the Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS), part of the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, at the University of Aberdeen. The IMS is located on the Foresterhill Health Campus, one of the largest clinical complexes in Europe, which also includes the Institute of Applied Health Sciences, the Rowett Institute, and a large teaching hospital.



Please note: The funding for this project covers tuition fees and research costs only, no stipend or living costs are provided.

  • Formal applications can be completed online: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgap/login.php
  • You should apply for Medical Sciences (PhD) to ensure your application is passed to the correct team.
  • Please clearly note the name of the lead supervisor and project title on the application form. If you do not mention the project title and the supervisor on your application it will not be considered for the studentship.
  • Please include a personal statement, an up-to-date copy of your academic CV, and relevant educational certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate and postgraduate (if applicable)).
  • Please note: you DO NOT need to provide a research proposal with this application
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.
  • General application enquiries can be made to 

Funding Notes

This 36 Month project is funded by a prestigious University of Aberdeen Elphinstone Scholarship. This opportunity is open to UK and International students and includes funding to cover tuition fees and research costs only. No stipend or living costs are provided.
Funding for international students does not cover visa costs (either for yourself or for accompanying family members), immigration health surcharge or any other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
The expected start date is February 2023.


(1) Shen L, Luo Z, Wu J, Qiu L, Luo M, Ke Q, et al. Enhanced expression of alpha2,3-linked sialic acids promotes gastric cancer cell metastasis and correlates with poor prognosis. Int J Oncol 2017 April 01;50(4):1201-1210.
(2) Munkley J, Elliott DJ. Hallmarks of glycosylation in cancer. Oncotarget 2016 June 07;7(23):35478-35489.
(3) Lee S, Yang YA, Milano SK, Nguyen T, Ahn C, Sim JH, et al. Salmonella Typhoid Toxin PltB Subunit and Its Non-typhoidal Salmonella Ortholog Confer Differential Host Adaptation and Virulence. Cell Host Microbe 2020 June 10;27(6):937-949.e6.

Email Now

PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs