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Research Statement

Dr Emma McErlean graduated from the School of Pharmacy, Queen’s University Belfast in 2013 with a First Class Honours Degree in Pharmacy. She completed her pre-registration training in community pharmacy and became fully registered as a Pharmacist with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland in 2014. She then carried out her PhD training in the School of Pharmacy (Queen’s University Belfast) under the supervision of Prof. Helen McCarthy and graduated in 2018. Her PhD thesis “Development and Characterisation of Novel Peptide-Based Nucleic Acid Delivery Systems for Metastatic Cancer” investigated the development and characterisation of novel cell penetrating peptides and modification of peptide composite systems for in vivo applications. This work comprised expertise in pharmaceutical biotechnology and nanomedicine, including techniques in non-viral DNA delivery, peptide design and polymer conjugation, in vitro and in vivo gene expression analysis. Patents on two delivery systems have resulted from this work.

Following completion of her PhD, Emma worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Pharmacy (Queen’s University Belfast) on a project funded by Prostate Cancer UK entitled: “Development of a mRNA Vaccine in a Microneedle Patch for Castrate Resistant Prostate Cancer.” This project investigated the development and characterisation of novel mRNA transcripts formulated into nanoparticles with a multifunctional cell penetrating peptide; RALA. Nanoparticles were loaded into polymeric dissolvable microneedle patches and applied to the skin to deliver the vaccine to skin-resident immune cells, eliciting an immune response to prostate cancer cells. In addition, bioinformatic analysis of patient cohorts allowed direct stratification of patients; ensuring clinically relevant antigens were delivered in the vaccine. This work comprised expertise in in vitro transcription of mRNA, optimisation of nanoparticle formulations, preparation of polymeric microneedles, in vitro and in vivo gene expression and immune response analysis. 

In 2021, Emma was appointed as Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Sciences in the School of Pharmacy (Queen’s University Belfast). Her research focuses on the design and development of peptide delivery systems for gene therapy targeting neurological diseases and for ex vivo adoptive cellular therapies. Her work brings together a unique combination of expertise in nanomedicine, drug delivery, biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals.

Research Interests

Cell Penetrating Peptides

Gene Delivery

Gene Therapy


Targeted Treatments 

Ex vivo Adoptive Cell Therapies

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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