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Ela Smiljanic-Hurley on aiming to save lives

Ela Smiljanic Hurley

11 June 2012

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in science?
Having been fascinated by sciences, especially chemistry, since my school years, I naturally went to university to study Medicinal Chemistry, followed by a PhD in Organic Chemistry. I had a desire to start a career which utilised the skills I had developed and would involve resolving complex problems.  I chose a career in drug discovery as it met these requirements and also offered the compelling prospect of developing treatments to diseases which could impact on thousands of lives. I enjoy the practical aspects of working in the lab which requires very technical skills. There are still a large number of diseases for which effective treatments are unavailable and this keeps me motivated as I know there are still many challenges we in the pharmaceutical industry must still resolve.

What is your current research topic?
At the moment I am researching into a new treatment for malaria. With around 700,000 deaths per year, malaria remains one of the biggest life-threatening illnesses in third world countries. Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted to people through bites of infected mosquitoes. The Plasmodium parasite is starting to show resistance to therapies that are currently available. Therefore, new drugs are needed in order to treat this disease effectively.

What is most innovative about this research?
We have identified an enzyme, which is essential for the reproduction of malarial parasites. The enzyme is a novel target for potential drug therapies. A specific drug that is able to inhibit this enzyme from functioning could be effective at killing off the parasite and therefore would provide a good treatment for malaria.

Are there any potential applications or any competitive advantages for industry as a result of your research?
The aim of this research is to develop a novel, affordable drug to treat malaria. If we are successful, it would help save thousands of lives in third world countries.

Has this work led your group to any other promising research?
We are constantly creating new methodologies for synthesising novel molecules, some of which could be useful for treating other therapeutic areas.

What have been your proudest achievements so far?
I came to the UK from a war torn Bosnia, under very difficult circumstances. I have successfully managed to complete my studies at school, then my degree and PhD. I am also very proud to be working as part of MRC Technology’s Centre for Therapeutics Discovery. My work may eventually contribute to saving thousands of lives, which would be a great achievement.

What is the next milestone in your career?
I would like to continue working in research. I am always happy to develop myself in other areas of science, so this may lead to a different, non-lab based career sometime in the future.

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