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PhD Studentship (4 years) - Mechanistic evaluation of amino acids as adjuvants in modulating buccal transport of biologicals

Aston Pharmacy School

Location:  Aston University Main Campus
Basis:  Full Time
Closing Date:  23.59 hours GMT on Sunday 28 February 2021
Reference:  R210070
Release Date:  Monday 22 February 2021

Supervisor: Prof Afzal Mohammed

Associate Supervisor: Dr Rhein Parri

Project Reference: MIBTP CASE_ Mohammed_Buccal transport

Applications are invited for a four year Postgraduate studentship, supported by the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), to be undertaken within the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Clinical Pharmacy Research Group at Aston University. The studentship is offered in collaboration with Aston Particle Technologies Ltd. 

The position is available to start October 2021.

Financial Support

This studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the Home fees rate, plus a maintenance allowance of at least £15,285 (subject to eligibility). This application is only available to Home-fee paying students.

Background to CASE Studentships 

CASE studentships are designed to provide students with a first-rate challenging research training experience within the context of a mutually-beneficial research collaboration between academic and non-academic partner organisations. Joint supervision should provide the student with a unique and broadening perspective on the impact of collaborative research, and allows the student to acquire novel skills and expertise.

Through the industrial placement a CASE student will gain a wider understanding of, for example, applied research or policy development that will enhance their future career prospects. In addition to experience of an industrial research environment, the student will receive business-related training, for example, in project-management, business strategy and/or finance. BBSRC stipulates a placement period of a minimum of 3 months, and up to a maximum of 18 months. The required placement period can be accrued through a number of shorter placements, if appropriate. Click here for full details on CASE studentships.

Project Outline

Biologics, such as proteins and peptides, have massive therapeutic potential, with many proteins being developed for clinical use since first approval of recombinant insulin in 1982. Although a non-invasive route of delivery would be much preferred, parenteral administration remains the predominant delivery route for the majority of therapeutic proteins, e.g. use of subcutaneous insulin in diabetes mellitus. Very few therapeutic proteins have progressed to Phase III clinical trials via the oral route because of its hostile environment, designed for the catabolism of nutrients, completely incompatible with the physiochemical nature of biologics, properties which in turn create difficulties in transportation from the alimentary canal to the systemic circulation.

For this reason, research at Aston has focussed on buccal delivery of biologics and it has recently been demonstrated that the transport of insulin across buccal mucosa can be modulated through use of amino acids as adjuvants1. It is now proposed to extend this work to study the use of engineered composite microparticles of biologics coated with amino acids to assist transport across an immortalised buccal cell-line1. It is hypothesized that these coatings will not only conserve biological activity, as has been demonstrated in the laboratory with other functional excipients, but will also modulate uptake through the buccal mucosa. The purpose of the proposed project is to study amino-acid protected composite particles carrying various representative biologics (insulin, lysozyme and bovine serum albumin representing low, medium and high molecular weight respectively) in buccal absorption. In this way, the factors and mechanisms involved in modulating the buccal transport of a range of biologics will be elucidated with the ultimate aim of informing better formulation of such agents and enabling more confident use of this non-invasive delivery route in future biopharmaceutical medicines.

The student will gain a unique interdisciplinary opportunity to study the mechanistic modulation of buccal transport of adjuvant coated biologic formulations by combining cell based assays (temporal and active/passive movement of biologics, confocal microscopy assisted trans / paracellular pathways) with complementary biophysical measurements (surface energy, surface area) using inverse gas chromatography. The research group at Aston will provide a challenging research training experience within the context of a mutually beneficial research collaboration with Aston Particle Technologies (APT). At APT, the student will have open access to isothermal dry particle coating technology2,3 and inverse gas chromatography.

Person Specification

The successful applicant should have been awarded, or expect to achieve, a Masters degree in a relevant subject with a 60% or higher weighted average, and/or a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution) in a relevant subject. Full entry requirements for Aston University can be found on our website. 

Evidence of quantitative training is required. For example, AS or A level Maths, IB Standard or Higher Maths, or university level maths/statistics course. Full entry and eligibility requirements for MIBTP can be found on their website. 

Contact information

For formal enquiries about this project contact Prof Afzal Mohammed by email at

Submitting an application

In order to apply for the MIBTP CASE PhD studentship you must:  

  1. Check your eligibility.  
  2. Complete a PhD application form on the Aston University website. From the drop-down options select School of Life and Health Sciences; October; Full time; Postgraduate Research; “Research Biomedical Sciences October 2021 Entry (Full-time)”. 
  3. Notify MIBTP of your application by completing the online notification form; ensuring that you upload a current CV to the form. 
  4. Review the MIBTP Data Privacy Policy to understand how we process your personal data. 

 When completing the Aston University application form, you will need to ensure to include the following documents: 

  • Copies of your academic qualifications for your Bachelor degree, and Masters degree (if studied); this should include both certificates and transcripts, and must be translated in to English. 
  • A personal statement* 
  • A copy of your current CV 
  • Two academic references  
  • Proof of your English Language proficiency for non-Native English speakers, further details can be found on our website 

*Please note that a project proposal is not required, however your Personal Statement should address your ability & knowledge of the research area.  Where applying for a specific project, please include the supervisor name, project title and project reference in your Personal Statement.  

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at 

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Further particulars and application forms are available in alternative formats on request i.e. large print, Braille, tape or CD Rom.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact HR via



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