University researcher wins l’Oreal Women in Science Fellowship
This is the fifth year of the L’Oréal Australia Women in Science Fellowships. The Fellows were chosen from 110 applicants by a panel of eminent scientists.
Dr Such is working to change the way drugs are delivered. Today, when patients are treated for cancer, the drug spreads throughout the body indiscriminately, causing side-effects such as nausea and hair loss.
To tackle this problem, Dr Such imagines a miniscule capsule designed like a set of Russian babushka dolls. The capsule sneaks through the blood stream untouched. When it finds its target—a cancer cell—it passes into the cell, sheds a layer, finds the part of the cellular machinery it needs to attack, sheds another layer and releases its cargo of drugs, destroying it.
Dr Such’s interest in chemistry started early. “My father is an industrial chemist, and we’ve always been very close. I was always intrigued by the way he spoke about what he did,” she said.
“It’s all about problem solving, and being creative at finding new ways of getting results. He made it very exciting. He still works in the industry and still loves it. I think it’s very much like father, like daughter.”
At university , the flexibility of plastics and similar polymers attracted her interest. “Polymer chemistry is what I love. It allows you to tailor and design materials to be really intelligent—and to respond to their environment.”
Creating such a capsule may take decades, but Ms Such and her University colleagues have already developed several materials which offer the potential to do the job.
She has developed ‘low fouling’ capsules, coated, like a Stealth Bomber, with materials that allow them to pass undetected through the body’s immune surveillance systems.
“I find the biological challenge is a large one. It requires a lot out of polymer chemistry, to actually meet the very sophisticated requirements of the biological system.
“That makes it really good fun as a materials scientist. You might open one door, and then there are 50 other problems, and then there are another 50. It’s a very challenging field,” she said.