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Polymer-engineering nanocages for protein delivery

   School of Pharmacy

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Protein therapeutics are a fast-acting and potent class of medicine with remarkable success in the treatment of several relevant disorders. Despite significant advantages, therapeutic safety and efficacy are hampered by protein instability, short circulation half-life and immunogenicity. Nanocarriers have found clinical success in macromolecular delivery by improving pharmacokinetic properties, facilitating cellular internalisation, and enhancing target affinity. However, therapeutic outcomes are often challenged by low protein encapsulation. Ideal protein-loaded nanocarriers must be able to carry high cargo doses for efficient therapy.

The proposed PhD project will focus on developing ferritin nanocages for protein delivery. Ferritin is a natural nanocarrier with high structural stability, biocompatibility, and biodegradability. Self-assembled from multiple protein subunits, ferritin forms a hollow cavity that can accommodate protein cargo and three distinct surfaces (external, interior, and inter-subunit) that can be functionalised to create a powerful ‘smart’ delivery platform. Protein encapsulation is dependent on the electrostatic interactions during ferritin self-assembly. The scientific approach of this project is thus to increase the attractive interactions between the interior surface microenvironment and the protein cargo to enhance encapsulation and stability. To do so, charged and/or stimuli-responsive polymers will be used to re-engineer the ferritin microenvironment. Ferritin-polymer conjugates will be characterised and impact of the inner surface charge on protein encapsulation as a function of pH and ionic strength investigated using protein cargos with varied size and surface charge. Findings from this project will lead towards temporal and distribution-controlled protein release and targeted therapy. The successful candidate will be part of a highly interdisciplinary project and have the opportunity to learn about polymer synthesis, bioconjugation, protein formulation and characterisation, and biological testing.

Training will be provided in a range of techniques including polymer synthesis bioconjugation, protein-polymer purification and characterisation and performance characterisation including in vitro bioactivity, drug release and stability assays. The student will also develop generic research skills in scientific writing, literature reviewing, time management and delivery of presentations, nationally and internationally. The PhD student will be encouraged to engage in a variety of impact activities, disseminate the research project findings through publications, public talks, and participate in QUB showcase events.

Home applicants must meet the following academic criteria:

1st or 2.1 honours degree in a relevant subject. Relevant subjects include Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Biochemistry, Biological/Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry, Engineering, or a closely related discipline.

International applicants must meet the following academic criteria:

IELTS (or equivalent) of 7.0, a 2.1 honours degree (or equivalent) and a master’s degree in a relevant subject.

Applicants should apply through the University's Direct Application Portal:

Funding Notes

Department for the Economy studentships are open for applications to Home and International applicants for October 2023 entry. Eligibility and funding information is available here: View Website

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