Silver-N-heterocyclic carbene complexes for anticancer applications


Contact Dr Charlotte E. Willans to discuss this project further informally.

This proposal is representative of the projects currently on offer in our group. For more details of active research projects and collaborations, please visit our webpage at:

Project description

In recent years, metal-N-heterocyclic carbene (NHC) complexes have been investigated in biomedical applications, showing promise as antibacterial (silver-NHCs) and as anticancer (palladium-, copper-, gold- and silver-NHCs) agents. Initial work from our group highlights the effects of various silver-NHC complexes on cytotoxicity, with bidentate cationic silver-NHCs being more cytotoxic than their monodentate counterparts. The work, which was a hot article in Dalton Transactions, was highlighted in New Scientist and attracted considerable media attention. More recent work uses NHC ligands that are derived from natural products such as caffeine, with a view to lowering the potential toxicity of the ligand component.

In collaboration with Professor of cancer pharmacology Roger Phillips and colleagues (Huddersfield), we have thoroughly evaluated the mechanism of action of silver complexes on cancer cells, establishing that multiple pathways to cell death are likely to be in operation. This will enable us to define specific targets and use a more informed approach to ligand design and development. Although silver-NHCs have shown considerable potential as anticancer drugs, and despite the supposed inherent low toxicity of silver, this area has not been developed compared to other metals in cancer therapy.

A major barrier to the continued development of these compounds is that in vitro activity does not translate in vivo due to changes in metal speciation in biological environments. To address this we are designing both polymer and nanoparticle based drug delivery systems as a means to stabilise the silver complexes in biological environments, deliver the drug to the intended target and release the drug in response to specific stimuli.

Further information about this project (pdf)

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), and/or a Master's degree in a relevant subject.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University’s minimum English Language requirements.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is the 'Silver-N-heterocyclic carbene complexes for anticancer applications’ as well as Dr Charlotte E. Willans as your proposed supervisor.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

If you require any further information please contact the Graduate School Office e: