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Elaine Ferguson  MRPharmS, PhD, SFHEA

Dr Elaine Ferguson MRPharmS, PhD, SFHEA

Reader in Polymer Therapeutics and Director of Research

School of Dentistry

+44 29225 10663
University Dental Hospital, Room Room 5F.08, Heath Park, Cardiff, CF14 4XY
Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision


I am a pharmacist whose research focusses on optimising drug release by attachment of biodegradable polysaccharides, to act as bioresponsive carriers for otherwise undeliverable proteins, peptides and drugs, thereby minimising toxicity, overcoming resistance and increasing bioavailability. Notably, dextrin-epidermal growth factor conjugates developed with Prof David Thomas were the first polymer therapeutics for tissue repair and the first paper from this work was featured as the cover story of the Journal of Controlled Release. Work in my group demonstrates the benefits of using biodegradable polysaccharide carriers, including dextrin, hyaluronic acid and alginate, leading to the first bi- functional polymer therapeutics that can significantly enhance the efficacy of antibiotics.

















Book sections



Current Projects

Novel polysaccharide-based drug delivery carriers for polymer therapeuticsAim: To explore the potential of alternative sources and structures of biologically active polysaccharides as novel carriers for protein and peptide drugs.

Development of a nanomedicine approach for simultaneous targeting of cancer and bacterial infectionsAim: To explore the anti-cancer activity of dextrin-colistin conjugates.

Design and assembly of tailored oligosaccharides as polymer therapeutics for improved treatment of chronic respiratory infectionsAim: To generate and characterise an alginate oligosaccharide ("OligoG")-polymyxin conjugate library to optimise the antimicrobial functions of these last resort drugs.

Dextrin-colistin conjugates as a model bioresponsive treatment for multi-drug resistant bacterial infections
Aim: To develop a novel nanomedicine-based delivery system to target the delivery of colistin to sites of inflammation; increasing bioactivity/ bioavailability, decreasing systemic toxicity and improving clinical effectiveness.

Development of in vitro models to study drug release patterns of bioresponsive drug delivery systems
Aim: To characterise drug release patterns and real-time pharmacological effects of bioresponsive polymer conjugates in simulated physiological environments.


  • 2023-2024: EPSRC Core Equipment Award (EP/X034739/1): EPSRC Equipment Call 2022: Cardiff University' (£457,080, co-investigator).
  • 2022-2024: EPSRC New Horizons (EP/X019136/1): 'Engineering next generation bioresponsive biopolymers: mimetic cartilage proteoglycans' (£196,228, co-investigator).
  • 2022-2025: Saudi Arabian Government (PhD studentship): (£125,850, principal investigator).
  • 2022: Wellcome Trust (Institutional Translation Project Account): 'Development of a nanomedicine approach to reduce the unacceptable side effects of bexarotene' (£24,831, co-investigator).
  • 2020-2022: Medical Research Council (Confidence in Concept): ‘Potential of lactobacillus spp.-derived polysaccharides as novel bi-functional carriers in polymer conjugates’ (£53,468, principal investigator).
  • 2020-2021: Wellcome Trust (Institutional Strategic Support Fund Reconnect with Science): ‘Development of bio-triggered nanoparticle-antibiotic conjugates to target cancer: impact of modification on cytotoxicity and epigenetic related pathways’ (£76,855, research sponsor).
  • 2019: EPSRC ECR Institutional Equipment: 'Contact angle goniometer and quartz crystal microbalance' (£48,000, co-investigator).
  • 2018-2022: Norwegian Research Council (281920): 'Novel alginate oligomer products for enhanced pharmaceutical delivery across mucosal barrier (Mucos-ALG)' (£297,397, co-investigator).
  • 2018-2019: Royal Society Research grant (RG\R2\180069): 'Development of a method for physicochemical analysis of saccharides from ploysaccharide-peptide conjugates' (£17,986.80, principal investigator).
  • 2018-2019: Wellcome Trust ISSF3 Translational Kickstart award: Development of a nanomedicine approach for simultaneous targeting of cancer and bacterial infections' (£49,645, principal investigator).
  • 2016-2021: MRC New Investigator Research grant (MR/N023633/1): ‘Accumulation and nephrotoxicity of dextrin-colistin conjugates’ (£406,496, principal investigator).
  • 2013-2013: Microbiology and Infection Translational Research Group (MITReG) Research Development Group grant: "Nanoantibiotic approaches to antibiotic delivery' (£4,000, principal investigator).
  • 2012: EPSRC grant (EP/K031635/1): 'Small items of research equipment at Cardiff University' (£498,293, co-investigator).
  • 2012: SANS study at ILL facility: 'Investigating the solution conformation and mechanism of action of antimicrobial alginate oligosaccharides (OligoG)' (£19,699, principal investigator).
  • 2011: SANS study at ILL facility: 'Novel polymer-antimicrobial conjugates; their solution conformation, self-association behavior and interaction with lipopolysaccharides' (£19,172, co-investigator).
  • 2010-2011: Wellcome Trust Value in People Award (£41,000 awarded, principal investigator).
  • 2009-2010: MRC Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme: 'Bioresponsive polymer-peptide conjugates as novel antibacterial agents' (£27,000 awarded, principal investigator).
  • 2008: SANS study at ISIS facility: 'Investigating a Dextrin-Phospholipase A2 Conjugate as a Trigger for Polymer Enzyme Liposome Therapy (PELT)' (£22,120 awarded, principal investigator).
  • 2008: SANS study at ISIS facility: 'Structural Characterisation of a Series of Polymer-Protein Conjugates for Chronic Wound Treatments' (£10,870, co-investigator).


  • Ferguson E, Thomas DW, Dessen A, Rye P (2016) Bacitracin-alginate oligomer conjugates. GB201617862.D0.
  • Ferguson E, Thomas DW, Dessen A, Rye P (2017) Polymyxin-alginate oligomer conjugates. GB201617860D0, GB201714710D0.
  • Ferguson EL, Thomas DW, Walsh T (2012) Therapeutic conjugates. GB201010500D0, EP2585114B1, ES2523507T3, US8835380B2.



  • 2018: Deputy Programme Director - MSc in Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine - Cardiff University, UK
  • 2017: Undergraduate interprofessional education coordinator - Batchelor of Dental Surgery, Dental Hygiene & Dental Therapy - Cardiff University, UK
  • 2013: Undergraduate teaching, assessment and project supervision - Batchelor of Dental Surgery - Cardiff University, UK
  • 2011: Module lead - MSc in Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine - Cardiff University, UK
  • 2009: Postgraduate teaching, assessment and research supervision - MSc in Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine, MSc in Implantology, MSc in Oral Biology and MSc in Clinical Dentistry - Cardiff University, UK


  • 2019: Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy
  • 2014: Fellow, Higher Education Academy


I graduated from the University of Manchester with a First class Master of Pharmacy degree, having gained a broad knowledge of the principles and techniques of pharmaceutical sciences. This led me to work within the pharmaceutical industry sector  (AstraZeneca) where I acquired practical experience of these skills. After qualification as a registered pharmacist I decided to pursue my growing interest in developing novel drug delivery systems since my clinical pharmacy experiences had highlighted the clinical need for new treatments. I completed a PhD with Professor Ruth Duncan at Cardiff University in 2008, in which I developed a bioresponsive polymer-phospholipase conjugate for the treatment of breast cancer. This research 'cemented' my long-standing interest in using natural biodegradable polymers as novel carriers for bioactive agents.

Having demonstrated the feasibility of bioresponsive polymer therapeutics in cancer, my interests focused on exploring new clinical applications. Having identified regenerative medicine as a field in which bioresponsive polymer conjugates could have great potential, I joined an interdisciplinary EPSRC Nanomedicine Platform-led consortium. Employing highly sophisticated analytical techniques to develop and test dextrin-growth factor conjugates, we developed the first polymer therapeutics for tissue repair.

More recently, my funding from MRC and Wellcome Trust enabled my group to design and deliver the first bioresponsive 'nanoantibiotic' based on dextrin-colistin conjugates, which show improved drug stability, pharmacokinetics and retention of antimicrobial activity. This funding has supported the development of a small consortium, led by myself, of clinicians, postgraduates and a research assistant, and attracted further funding, including an MRC New Investigator Research Grant and from the Wellcome Trust to explore simultaneous targeting of cancer and bacterial infections with our nanoantibiotic. My current research is developing polysaccharide-based polymer therapeutics for a range of novel targets and new clinical applications.

I was appointed as Lecturer of Polymer Therapeutics in January 2013, and promoted to Senior Lecturer in August 2017. I successfully applied for promotion to Reader in August 2020. I was appointed as Director of Research for the School of Dentistry in August 2021.

Honours and awards

  • 2018: MediWales Award for Innovation.
  • 2017: Cardiff University Innovation and Impact Award in Medicine.
  • Jul 2018: Poster prize. Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale UHB Research and Development Conference. Cardiff, UK (2nd prize awarded).
  • Jun 2016: Poster prize. Cardiff and Vale UHB International Clinical Trials Conference. Cardiff, UK (3rd prize awarded).
  • Jun 2015: Poster prize. Cardiff and Vale UHB Research and Development Conference. Cardiff, UK (3rd prize awarded).
  • May 2014: Oral presentation. 10th International Symposium on Polymer Therapeutics: From Laboratory to Clinical Practice. Valencia, Spain (2nd prize awarded).
  • 2013: The Jackson Prize for the best short paper presented at the Burns and Plastic Surgery Section, Society of Academic Research Surgery Annual Meeting. London, UK.
  • Dec 2012: Competitive travel grant. Microbiology and Infection Translational Research Group (MITReG) (£400).
  • May 2011: Science team award for ‘Best Interdisciplinary Dynamics’, SARTRE Science Showcase. Newport, UK.
  • Nov 2010: Oral presentation. Association of British Academic Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons Annual Meeting. Cardiff, UK (1st prize awarded).
  • 2007: Competitive travel grants. Merck Sharp & Dohme (£500), Controlled Release Society ($125).
  • Jun 2006: Oral presentation. Highlights of student posters, 33rd Annual Meeting and Exposition of the Controlled Release Society. Vienna, Austria (1st prize awarded).
  • 2006: Competitive travel grants. Graduate School of Biomedical and Life Sciences travel grant (£300), Thomas Morgan travel grant (£200).
  • Apr 2004: Poster prize. Postgraduate research day, Welsh School of Pharmacy. Cardiff, UK (1st prize awarded).
  • 10 prizes awarded to MSc and PhD students under my supervision.

Professional memberships

  • Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Member of the Cardiff Institute for Tissue Engineering & Repair (CITER)
  • Memmber of the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences (APS) (Steering committee member for Nanomedicines Focus Group)
  • Member of the Controlled Release Society (CRS)
  • Member of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)
  • Member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)

Academic positions

  • Aug 2017 - Jul 2020: Senior Lecturer in Polymer Therapeutics, School of Dentistry, Cardiff, UK.
  • Jan 2012 - Jul 2017: Lecturer in Polymer Therapeutics, School of Dentistry, Cardiff, UK.
  • Nov 2008 - Dec 2012: Research Associate in Polymer Therapeutics, School of Dentistry, Cardiff, UK.
  • May 2008 - Oct 2008: Postdoctoral Research Scientist (Nanomedicines EPSRC Platform Grant), Schools of Chemistry and Pharmacy, Cardiff, UK.

Committees and reviewing


  • 2021 - present: Director of Research (Dentistry), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2018 - present: Impact Lead (UoA3), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2018 - present: Senior Management Committee (Dentistry), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2016 - present: Wellcome Trust ISSF3 grant panel member, Cardiff University, UK
  • 2016 - present: Research Committee (Dentistry), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2015 - 2016: Enterprise, Engagement and Impact Committee (Dentistry), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2014 - present: Postgraduate Research Admissions and Monitoring Committee (Dentistry), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2014 - present: Impact and Innovation Committee (College of Biological and Life Sciences), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2014 -present: Impact Lead (Dentistry), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2013 - 2017: Research Ethics Committee (Dentistry), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2012 - 2018: People, Equality and Diversity Committee (Dentistry), Cardiff University, UK


  • 2019 - present: Associate Editor, Nano-Based Drug Delivery - Frontiers in Medical Technology
  • 2019 - present: Editorial board member, Scientific Reports
  • 2019: External examiner, Monash University
  • 2018: External examiner, University of Strathclyde
  • 2016 - present: Chair of PhD examination panel (x2), Cardiff University, UK
  • 2011 - present: Grant reviewing: BBSRC, EPSRC, MRC, UKRI, Wellcome Trust and British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy
  • 2010 - present: Reviewer for over 20 journals, e.g.: Nature, Biomacromolecules, Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine, PLoS ONE, International Journal of Nanomedicine, Journal of the American Chemical Society, Macromolecular Bioscience


I am interested in supervising PhD students in the areas of:

  • Polymer therapeutics
  • Drug delivery
  • Nanomedicine
  • Antimicrobial therapies