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Dr Paul - researching the optimised design of new surfactant or polymer molecules

Alison Paul

26 Oct 2010

Researcher and physical chemistry lecturer Dr Alison Paul joined SCI in 1998. She is a member of the Colloid and Surface Chemistry Group and jointly runs the Cardiff University Soft Matter Research Group with Dr Peter Griffiths, who is also the Colloid Group’s chairman. Dr Paul conducted her PhD studies under Prof J Eastoe in Bristol. She has been working in Cardiff since 2005, and is currently Lecturer in Physical Chemistry.

What is the focus of your research?
The main objective of my research is the optimised design of new surfactant or polymer molecules to fulfil a specific purpose (e.g. ultra-low surface tensions or maximum solubilising capacity). We want to build systems that work more effectively, efficiently, simply, cheaply and greenly! Day to day research focuses on the use of scattering and spectroscopic techniques such as small-angle neutron, light or X-ray scattering, NMR and UV/VIS/fluorescence spectroscopy to understand the processes occurring in colloidal systems.

Individual projects all contribute towards the understanding of fundamental interactions between components within a colloidal system, correlating molecular properties and interactions to the macroscopic behaviour of the system. For example, this might involve studying micelle formation in an aqueous solution of novel surfactants, the solution conformation of chemically modified polymers, or the solubility and adsorption of polymers to particles in fluorinated solvents. It is this detailed understanding that leads us to the improved design of new molecules and formulations.

What are your current projects?
Most of the current projects focus on the use of polymers in aiding drug delivery, whether that be as excipients to provide stability or solubility of an active substance in a formulation; or as an integral part of a macromolecular drug delivery system, such as a polymer-drug or polymer-protein conjugate. We collaborate extensively with biologists, pharmacists, medics and theoreticians in order to develop relationships between physical, biological and ultimately clinical data. Much of our research is also closely linked to, and funded by, industrial collaborators.

What are the applications of your discoveries?
This can be both one of the joys and frustrations of working in an area with real-life applications, as intellectual property considerations can prevent you talking about some of the research that you’re most excited about! However, the more fundamental work that we do also has potential applications in the longer term. We are beginning to build an understanding of how drug type and content in a polymer-drug conjugate affects the solution conformation of that conjugate, and how that, in turn, correlates with drug release behaviour and in vivo toxicity. This information will ultimately help us to design optimised polymer-drug conjugates for the treatment of diseases such as cancer.

What are the biggest challenges in drug-delivery?
As I see it, the main challenges for improving the effectiveness of drug delivery systems are in improving the site-specific delivery of drugs within the body, and somehow improving the success rate in bringing new systems from laboratory development to routine clinical use.

In designing a system with realistic clinical potential I think it is important to be aware of the limitations that intended clinical use brings. For example, it may be relatively simple to design a polymeric system that will give a sustained release of a chosen drug molecule, but it’s a bigger challenge to build a system that (amongst other requirements) will be non-toxic, biocompatible, stable under the required range of biological conditions, suitable for scale-up and likely to meet with FDA approval in the long term.

One of the biggest challenges to productive research is effective communication between different disciplines. We can use quite different scientific language to describe the same thing. I find that you don’t need to be an expert at everything, but you have to understand enough of each other's subjects to follow discussions and appreciate the scope and limitations of the techniques the team uses. This is more challenging than limiting yourself to one subject - but a continually challenging, effective and incredibly rewarding way to work.

You can connect with other SCI members who are in a similar field to Alison, through the SCI Members' Directory.

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