Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Open to PhD applications in the field of nano-drug delivery, biopharmaceutics, vaccine technology, repurposing of phosphate-based drugs, nucleic acid therapies and bone repair.

- Development of nanomedicines for cancer
- Design of non-viral delivery systems


Research activity per year

Personal profile


Professor Helen McCarthy holds the Chair of Nanomedicine in the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University Belfast and is the Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Academic Business Development. Between 2020 and 2023, she also held a 0.2FTE Professorship in Dublin City University’s School of Chemical Sciences. Within Queen’s, Helen co-leads the institutional Reputation and Rankings strategy and chairs the global partnership committees for several regions, including the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. 

Helen’s research is centred on novel non-viral delivery systems for nucleic acids and anionic small molecules. These are peptide delivery systems that are purposely designed to solve key criteria for controlled intracellular delivery. In addition to supervising >40 PhD students, producing >150 publications and >200 conference proceedings, and undertaking editorial work, Helen has contributed new knowledge as the inventor of a drug delivery technology and is named on 18 patents. After 10 years of academic applications of the technology, Helen spun out her technology into pHion Therapeutics which incorporated in 2017. Helen was the CEO of pHion for 6 years, exiting in 2023. In that time, Helen won INVENT NI, the All-Ireland Seedcorn Awards, and the Vice-Chancellor's Innovation Award. She also secured almost £10 M in non-dilutive funding from Innovate UK. Helen sits on the Research Advisory Committee for Prostate Cancer UK and has worked with many global pharmaceutical companies to progress her technology. Helen has also worked closely with Invest NI, Alderley Park, Medicines Discovery Catapult, Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and the Centre for Process Innovation. Helen is a member of Biodesign Europe and the European Society of Biomaterials.


Research Statement

Prof. McCarthy is currently working on innovative hybrid delivery systems that can transport mRNA to specific cells or tissues. Helen is also interested in the manufacturing of biologics such as mRNA, DNA and proteins. Helen's research group has particular skills in nanoparticle synthesis and characterisation, the manufacture of mRNA, mRNA vaccines for cancer, genetic editing, advanced materials, and gene loaded biomaterials that designed for bone regeneration or wound repair . Helen's group also has a high throughput pre-clinical screening capability for new biologics up to GLP toxicology. Underpinning all of Prof. McCarthy’s research is a commitment to intersectoral and interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation.  

With a group of PhD students and PDRAs, current collaborative projects include:

1. A Nanoparticle-loaded Nanogel for Chronic Wounds with Dublin City University 

2. WoundActiv: Bioactive scaffolds functionalised for the delivery of genetic cargoes for the healing of complex wounds with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 

3. NeuVac: a vaccine for children with neuroblastoma with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 

4. The Dramatic Effects of FKBPL on Adiposity via Gene Therapy with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 

5. Pepdeliver: Nanocomplexes as a platform to mediate oral delivery of peptides using insulin as a prototype with University College Dublin 

6. Design of Genetically Engineered Tensile Load-Bearing Soft Tissues Inspired by Embryonic Tendon Development with Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University and Penn State University 

7. Development of a mRNA Therapy to Treat Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) with University of Birmingham

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
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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