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The anti-cancer potential and pharmacological characterisation of Frankincense resin

   School of Science, Engineering and Environment

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  Dr D Greensmith, Prof Joe Sweeney  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Interviews will be held on: End of June / early July 2022

The candidate must be able to register by 19th September 2022.


An exciting and fully funded PhD studentship opportunity has arisen from a collaboration between the University of Salford and UK Essential Oils Ltd.

Frankincense is a resin extracted from trees in the genus Boswellia and has been used as a traditional remedy for centuries. The pharmacologically active compounds are now known to be Boswellic acids which are of considerable interest in modern medicine. For example, evidence shows that Boswellic acids can improve the symptoms of auto-immune diseases such as asthma and ulcerative colitis suggesting they exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. However, the full therapeutic potential of Boswellia remains underexplored.

For example, limited evidence suggested that Boswellic acids exhibit anti-cancer properties though the scope and mechanisms of action remained unclear. Furthermore, while there are many Boswellia species distributed throughout the world, the therapeutic potential of only certain examples had been explored. This was an important oversight given we know the chemical profile of each is highly dependent on climate and geography. As such, it was likely that pharmacologically active compounds remained undiscovered.

To address this, our recently completed study provided a detailed characterisation of the anti-cancer potential, mechanisms of action and chemical profile of Boswellia carterii; a largely unexplored species. Our key findings to date include:

1.      Raw extracts of Boswellia carterii exhibit a high degree of anti-cancer specific activity

2.      Anti-cancer activity is mediated by controlled cellular mechanisms such as apoptosis and cell cycle arrest.

3.      It is likely that extracts of Boswellia carterii contain uncharacterised pharmacologically active compounds.

Our research is at an exciting stage, but as our experiments to date have focussed on raw extracts (which contain a mixture of active and non-active compounds) more work is required to further elucidate the therapeutic potential of Boswellia species. As such, this fully industry funded iCASE studentship will take the project forward. Key objectives include:

1.      The isolation, purification and definition of any uncharacterised pharmacologically active compounds present in extracts of Boswellia carterii

2.      Determine the anti-cancer potential of isolated active compounds

3.      Fully characterise the anti-cancer mechanisms of each isolated active compound

4.      Explore the wider therapeutic and commercial potential of Boswellia species

The project spans many disciplines such as cancer-cell biology, physiology and analytical chemistry. As such, the candidate will utilise a wide range of cutting-edge laboratory techniques and will engage with a diverse scientific community to further our understanding of the therapeutic potential of Boswellia species.


The preferred candidate must have an exceptional understanding of human physiology, pathophysiology (including cancer biology) and cell biology. An understanding of analytical chemistry, in particular natural product isolation and purification is also highly desirable.

Candidates will hold a minimum of an upper 2nd class degree in a relevant subject area. Completion of a Masters degree in a relevant subject area is desirable but not essential. The project will utilise a range of advanced analytical techniques which may include HPLC, NMR, mass spectroscopy, PCR, western blot, flow cytometry, cancer cell migration and invasion assessment and photometric measurement of intracellular calcium dynamics, oxidative stress and mechanical function. Experience in any of these techniques is desirable but not necessarily expected due to their advanced nature. While full training in all required techniques will be provided, the successful candidate will demonstrate they have considerable general laboratory experience and exceptional general practical skills. The candidate should also demonstrate they have engaged with research and its community as an undergraduate / postgraduate student.

Candidates are asked to provide a CV and personal statement outlining their suitability for this post. The personal statement should describe their background, skills, academic interests, and their motivation for doing a PhD in no more than 2 sides of A4 using size 11-12 font. This should include evidence of satisfying the above requirements along with being able to work independently to a high standard, collaborate with others, and demonstrate excellent scientific writing skills.

Funding Eligibility: This studentship is only available to students with settled status in the UK.

Enquiries: Informal enquiries may be made to Dr David Greensmith by email: [Email Address Removed]

Curriculum vitae and supporting statement explaining their interest should be sent to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

The studentship is fully funded and includes:
• A fee waiver
• A stipend of £16,000.00 p.a. for three and a half years
• All bench fees and consumable costs
• Funds specifically allocated for conference travel
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