PhD Study : Isolation and characterization of phytochemicals with insulin-releasing or glucose lowering effects for the treatment of type-2 diabetes

Apply and key information  


Before the discovery of insulin in 1922, diets and plant-based treatments were the common approaches to diabetes therapy. In addition to metformin that was developed from a Galega officinalis, research evidence is being increasingly published to show that many plant derived bioactive compounds have the potential for development into drugs for treating type-2 diabetes. Previous studies in our laboratory have also provided research evidence for the potential of extracts of some plant species as candidates for development into antidiabetic agents. Recently, we isolated a number of insulinotropic compounds from the extracts and these compounds exhibited potent in vitro insulin-releasing effects on BRIN-BD11 cells. They also improved glucose tolerance and enhanced insulin release in animals with obesity-diabetes on a short-term basis.

The overall aim of this research is structural characterization and evaluation of biological activities of compounds recently isolated from extracts of traditional antidiabetic plant for potential development as novel type 2 diabetes drugs. It may also be possible to incorporate into the project other plant species with reputed antidiabetic properties depending on the interests of the applicant.

The proposed research will provide training in a wide range of techniques including RP-HPLC, NMR, Ultrasound-assisted sequential extraction, Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC), Flash Chromatography, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry; tissue culture; measurement of insulin secretion, signaling molecules (intracellular Ca2+ and other second messenger pathways); peptide iodination, cell morphology; ELISA; RIA; short studies in animal of obesity-diabetes.

Established collaborations are in place for structural characterization and large-scale purification of plant materials. This research will generate novel IP, high quality publications and potential exploitation through pharmaceutical development.

Applicants should note that Bench fees of £6,000.00-£8,000.00 per annum are required.

Essential criteria

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study.

We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • Clearly defined research proposal detailing background, research questions, aims and methodology

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area

Funding and eligibility

Recommended reading

1.Prawej Ansari, Mary P. Hannon-Fletcher, Peter R. Flatt and Yasser H.A. Abdel-Wahab (2021) Effects of 22 traditional anti-diabetic medicinal plants on DPP-IV enzyme activity and glucose homeostasis in high-fat fed obese diabetic rats, Bioscience Reports, 41 (1), BSR20203824.

2.P Ansari, PR Flatt, P Harriott, JMA Hannan, YHA Abdel-Wahab (2021) Identification of Multiple Pancreatic and Extra-Pancreatic Pathways Underlying the Glucose-Lowering Actions of Acacia arabica Bark in Type-2 Diabetes and Isolation of Active Phytoconstituents. Plants 10 (6), 1190.

3.J.M.A. Hannan, Prawej Ansari, Shofiul Azam, Peter R. Flatt, Yasser H.A. Abdel Wahab (2020). Effects of Spirulina platensis on insulin secretion, DPP-IV activity and both carbohydrate digestion and absorption indicate potential as an adjunctive therapy for diabetes. British Journal of Nutrition. 124:1021-1034. DOI 10.1017/S0007114520002111.

4.Prawej Ansari, Shofiul Azam, J.M.A. Hannan, Peter R. Flatt, Yasser H.A. Abdel Wahab (2020). Anti-hyperglycaemic activity of H. rosa-sinensis leaves is partly mediated by inhibition of carbohydrate digestion and absorption, and enhancement of insulin secretion. Journal of Ethnopharmacology;  253: 112647.

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 1 September 2023

Interview Date
within a month of application

Preferred student start date


Apply Online  

Contact supervisor

Dr Yasser Abdel-Wahab

Other supervisors