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Characterisation of apitoxin (bee venom) and processing of its actives for pharmaceutical applications

Principal Supervisor: Dr Kostas Gkatzionis - School of Chemical Engineering

Co-supervisor: Prof Serafim Bakalis

PhD project title: Characterisation of apitoxin (bee venom) and processing of its actives for pharmaceutical applications

University of Registration: University of Birmingham

Project outline:

A multidisciplinary PhD project is offered at the School of Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham, aiming to characterise apitoxin (bee venom) and develop methods for its collection and processing in pharmaceutical applications.

Bees are key to agricultural resilience and food security because production of food depends on pollination. Furthermore, apiculture presents a range of added value by-products such as bee venom, pollen, honey, royal jelly. In particular, honey bee venom (apitoxin) has been widely used in cosmetic industry, pharmaceutical applications (antimicrobial, allergic desensitisation, treatment of diseases, rheumatoid arthritis etc.) and recently food supplements.

Apitoxin consists of 88% water and the remaining 12% contains active substances. These include peptides, enzymes, active amines, sugars, lipids and amino acids. Melittin, a polypeptide making up most of the dry weight of bee venom, is promising anti-inflammatory agent with reported therapeutic effects against several inflammatory diseases including skin inflammation, neuroinflammation, atherosclerosis, arthritis, liver inflammation, antibacterial, antiviral and cell growth inhibition. Recent research demonstrated its effect on apoptosis of different cancer cell lines and the use of nano-particles for safely and effectively delivering melittin against HIV. Phospholipase A2 presents immunogenic potential, antibacterial and anticoagulant action. Other components which are present in apitoxin have not been fully characterised or investigated, especially regarding their antimicrobial effectiveness and treating infections.

Furthermore, apitoxin collection and processing involves extensive drying which induces significant quality degradation, and loss of volatile fractions, the properties of which are unknown. Bee venom needs to be further characterised for understanding its full composition and properties of components. Nowadays, novel materials and technologies can be employed for advancing the collection of apitoxin and/or individual components and delivery in pharmaceutical and cosmetic formulations.

The objectives of this project will be to:

  1. optimise the collection and processing procedure of apitoxin including its full understanding of composition and variability
  2. apply systems approaches for exploring the effectiveness of existing and novel components against infection
  3. apply bioprocess engineering tools to develop pharmaceutical and cosmetic formulations for encapsulation and delivery of apitoxin tailored to the site of delivery (internal, trauma, wounds etc.) and application (antibacterial, antifungal, biofilm etc.).

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

Due to the multidisciplinary approach, the PhD student will develop a wide range of experimental skills. The training objectives will be tailored to the student’s background, skills and interests.

Nanotechnology for enhancing the recovery of components in apitoxin and investigation as carriers for delivery.

Chemical engineering and bioprocess engineering for pharmaceutical/cosmetic formulations and targeted delivery in microbial infection.

Microbiology for investigation of effectiveness against infection and new antibacterial, antifungal and biofilm applications.

Material sciences for optimisation of collection and elimination of losses in quality and quantity of apitoxin.

The PhD Student will receive training in: classic microbiology including class 2 pathogens; flow cytometry to analyse bacteria physiology on a single cell level in real time or near-real time, through the use of fluorescent dyes and proteins; wet chemistry; techniques for preparation and characterisation of nanomaterials such as atomic force microscopy (AFM), Raman, XPS; standard analytical techniques such as mass spectrometry, HPLC and GC for characterisation of extracts; fluorescence spectroscopy; key characterisation microscopy techniques ranging from transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning electronic microscopy (SEM) to time-lapse combined with fluorescence/confocal microscopy; modelling techniques for capturing microbial growth kinetics and prediction of responses.

Contact: Dr Kostas Gkatzionis, University of Birmingham