Natural Products

Pharmacy and Life Sciences

This research theme is one of our Translational Research topics.​ Offered by The School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, you will join a thriving postgraduate research programme, with more than 30 doctoral students currently undertaking innovative research within the School.

MRes | MPhil | PhD
Start Date
February and October
Valorisation of Food waste/by-product: a source of bioactive natural products, ‘green’ bio-absorbents, and corrosion inhibitors 

Contacts: Dr Kyari YatesDr Carlos FernandezProfessor Paul Kong

With the increasing world population, comes a high demand for food and hence the food processing industry is fast growing in most countries with a consequent increase in food waste. As a result, food waste management will increase substantially. Currently food waste and by-products generated, are not fully exploited and their disposal is presenting a continuously growing problem. Common by-products from the agricultural food industry are hulls, shells, husks, pods, stems, stalks, bran, seeds, washings, pulp refuse, stones, press cake/pomace. Recently we reported the antioxidant, protective properties, and potential application against neurodegenerative diseases of rapeseed by-product ethanol extract. Preliminary results in our laboratory have shown promising results when rapeseed pomace was utilised as both green bio-absorbent in the purification of water and corrosion inhibitor. The use of food waste and/or by-products for the extraction of useful phytochemicals together with their use as green bio-absorbent in the purification of water and corrosion inhibitor could help to cope with the increased need for food while decreasing the amount of waste. This project will further investigate and assess these applications of common food waste/by-product towards meeting ‘zero-waste’ targets and a circular economy strategy.

The in vitro effect of native Mexican plant extracts: Targeting the efflux transporter to overcome chemoresistance in cancer 

Contact: Dr. Gemma Barron 

Multidrug resistance (MDR) is one of the most common reasons for the failure of chemotherapy drugs and remains a major obstacle in the effective treatment of cancer. Members of the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) family are frequently overexpressed in cancer cells and limit the intracellular accumulation of cytotoxic drugs by active exclusion. Plant-derived agents have great potential to both prevent the onset or delay the progression of the carcinogenic process, and enhance the efficacy of mainstream cytotoxic drugs. TCMs have been reported to reverse MDR thus, enhancing the efficacy of western chemotherapeutic drugs. Identification of novel Mexican natural products which could also reverse MDR could open avenues to expand research in the area of drug discovery but, also improve sustainability of local resources.

Valorisation of by-products from the food and drink manufacturing industry and creation of circular opportunities.

Contact: Dr Giovanna Bermano

The food and drink manufacturing and processing industry has an important part to play in reducing food waste and transitioning to a circular economy paradigm where by-products are processed in an effective and sustainable way; generating greater socio-economic value, and tackling climate change.

Opportunities are available for projects which apply novel ‘green’ extraction technologies to recover valuable bio-active compounds from by-products. High value/low volume chemicals will be isolated, their bio-activities tested in a variety of biological systems (in–vitro: cell culture; in vivo: C. elegans, mouse) and mechanisms of action identified for use as nutraceuticals, or preservatives in the food and drink industry or in the cosmetic/personal care industry, to create new value chains.

The in vitro effect of cannabidiol to improve chemotherapy drug uptake in breast cancer cells

Contact: Dr. Gemma Barron  

Project Outline: Several different types of cancer including breast cancer are becoming more insensitive and resistant to current pharmacotherapies, which is due in large part to dysregulation of transporter molecules (i.e. ABCG2) leading to impaired drug adsorption, a process termed ‘multidrug resistance’ (MDR). Recent evidence indicates that Cannabidiol (CBD), the main non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, interacts with ABCG2 and could consequently improve drug reabsorption, although this has yet to be investigated. The proposed project will investigate, using breast cancer cell models, the potential for CBD and other natural products to improve the anti-cancer ability of commonly used chemotherapy agents.


Contacts: Professor Linda A Lawton,  Professor Christine Edwards

A number of waste streams will be evaluated for the growth of algae and/or cyanobacteria with the aim of producing manufacturing and food products. This may include bioplastic, pigments, proteins and high value chemicals. This work could focus either on Life Sciences, optimising bioreactor conditions and design or explore Material Sciences of, for example, the properties of bioplastics.

Natural Product Drug Discovery

Contact:  Professor Cherry Wainwright 

Natural products remain a major source of novel drugs, with over 70% of new drugs registered over the last two decades coming directly from, or based upon molecules found in, natural sources.  We have a large collection of extracts from >6,500 plants, many of which are native to South America, that is available for screening for potential benefits in cardiometabolic diseases.  Alternatively, students may have a particular interest in plants that are used in traditional medicine.  We use a broad range of cell-based high throughput screens for initial identification of active extracts and their fractions, which can then be tested for their ability to prevent or slow the development of cardiovascular pathologies such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart failure, metabolic syndrome and obesity in both mammalian (mouse) and non-mammalian (C Elegans) in vivo models.  In addition, in association with our collaborators, we can perform metabolomic analysis to identify what chemicals are abundant in the active fractions to try to pinpoint bioactive molecules of interest. 

Facilities for Researchers

If you decide to undertake research in one of these opportunities you will have access to state-of-the-art research facilities and receive support from experienced and dedicated staff.

All research students have dedicated space in our Research Hub, which is a self-contained space for you to work and socialise. Training in transferable skills is provided by a university-wide PG Cert in Researcher Development, which all students must complete, as well as a range of on-going research skills workshops. In addition, the School has several research events to aid your development, including external speakers at research seminars; student research seminars; and the annual School Research Day, where staff and students present their work.

All of our research students are provided with financial support for consumables and are funded to attend conferences. In addition, instances to enhance your curriculum vitae and transferable skills are provided via teaching and class demonstrating opportunities on our taught courses, as well as participating in public engagement activities within local schools and Aberdeen Science Centre.




Normal entry requirements are a first or upper second class honours degree from a University of the United Kingdom, or from an overseas University, or degree equivalent qualification, subject to the approval of Robert Gordon University.

Applicants holding qualifications other than those detailed shall be considered on their merits and in relation to the nature and scope of the proposed research programme. Applicants will normally register for an MSc/PhD or MRes/PhD with transfer to PhD dependent on satisfactory progress.

English Language

Any applicant whose first language or language of previous University-level instruction is not English must normally demonstrate competence in English. This should be a score of IELTS 6.5 or equivalent.

We accept a variety of in-country and secure English language tests, find out more:

English Language requirements

Our Pre-Sessional English Programme (PSP) is available for students who have not yet reached the required English level and those who would like to improve their language competency.

Pre-Sessional English Programme at RGU

Please note, some courses may require a higher standard of English than stated in this page. Contact for further information.


For Academic Year 2022/2023


  • Full time - £4,596 per academic year
  • Part time MPhil/PhD - £2,760 per academic year
  • Part time MRes/MSc by research - £2,298 per academic year


  • Full time - £17,000 per academic year
  • Part time MPhil/PhD - £10,200 per academic year
  • Part time MRes/MSc by research - £8,500 per academic year

Additional Costs

The following course-related costs are not included in the course fees:


Alumni Discount

Robert Gordon University is delighted to offer a 20% loyalty discount on course fees for all alumni who have graduated from RGU.


Student Funding

Postgraduate students will normally make their own arrangements for payment of fees. However, there are a limited number of SAAS funded places on certain postgraduate courses.
There are also sources of funding that are applicable to categories of student.


Scholarships and Awards

You may also qualify for a scholarship or financial award:



For new intakes course fees are reviewed and published annually for each mode of delivery. Tuition fees are fixed for the duration of a course at the rate confirmed in the offer letter.  For further information see:

Student Finance


All applications should be made via the University's online application for research students:

Application Deadlines
  • 31 May – October entry
  • 30 September – February entry
Completed application forms should be accompanied by:
  • Two academic references
  • A transcript or mark sheet for all graduate qualifications
  • A draft research proposal, or at least a short summary to indicate the potential area of research (Refer to Section 8 of the Application Form)

For applicants whose first language or language of university education is not English, applications must include:

  • Certificate of English language competency score of IELTS 6.5 in each of the four test components (Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking).
  • Students who can demonstrate successful completion of tertiary (university or college) studies in a country whose national language is English, may be exempted from this requirement.


If you wish to know more about the opportunities to study for your research degree within the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, contact the PaLs Research Degrees Coordinator:


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