Rideal Travel Bursary Recipient, Nicolas Alcaraz Reports from Edinburgh

15 Oct 2015

Nicolas Alcaraz is a 2nd year PhD student at Monash University in Australia. He is in Prof Ben Boyd’s research group working on targeted and controllable drug delivery using lipids. The group focuses on researching different aspects of lipids, some look at the digestion of lipids in food and poorly water soluble drug systems from a structural approach whilst others work with self-assembled lipid based liquid crystalline systems that can be used for controllable and reversible drug release. Nicolas also completed his Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and his Honours year at Monash University.

Nicolas’ dissertation is titled ‘Targeting Drug Carriers Using ‘Copper-Free’ Click Chemistry and Metabolic Labelling’ and below is a brief description of his research topic.

Metabolic labelling involves the labelling of a cell, through surface expression of a functional group, by taking advantage of its natural metabolic pathways. Sugars are generally taken up by cells and once metabolised expressed on the cell surface as part of glycoproteins. These sugars can be modified such that a functional group of interest is also expressed on the cell surface. Commonly the group used on these unnatural sugars is an azide as it is small, not biologically active and biologically safe. A probe can be attached to the azide group on the cell surface through specific reactions known as copper-free click chemistry. Copper-free click chemistry involves using two functional groups that will react spontaneously and quickly to form a covalent bond. The most common reaction is an azide sugar reacting with a strained cyclooctyne that has an alkyne group. Previous studies have employed a functionalised dye that can be imaged using microscopy based techniques allowing for specific imaging of cells and sugar related biological processes.

Currently, these two techniques have been used together primarily for imaging purposes. A novel approach that involves using these two techniques together to allow for selective and specific targeting of cells by particles of interest will be tested during the research project. These particles may be drug delivery systems such as liquid crystal lipid systems. These potential alternative uses will be examined and investigated. If possible this may lead to a new treatment method for diseases such as cancer.

With the help of a Rideal Travel Bursary, Nicolas attended the 42nd Annual Controlled Release Society Meeting in Edinburgh, which took place during 26 - 29 July 2015. Below, he describes his experience and what he learnt.

‘As this project is strongly directed towards delivery of drugs and imaging agents, interaction with the drug delivery and nanomedicine communities are vital for my exposure to leaders in the field, to receive feedback and undertake networking opportunities. With assistance from the SCI-RSC Rideal Travel Bursary I was able to attend the 42nd Annual Controlled Release Society Meeting in Edinburgh. This conference is the largest in the drug delivery field and had over 1,500 delegates in attendance. Some of the attendees are the most prominent figures in this area of research. The opportunity to attend the conference was amazing as I was able to network and establish connections with researchers across the world in my field.

‘These connections will be helpful in both the short and long term. In the short term making these connections has benefitted my PhD by finding suitable mentors to provide me with insight and tips on my current research. In the long term it will help my career by increasing my contacts across the globe that could be future colleagues or employers. From the talks and posters I gained helpful information regarding alternative techniques and instrumentation that will be useful in answering a number of tough questions in my project, and also alerted me to limitations of many other techniques and instruments. I was also pleased with feedback and attention that my poster presentation received and I was able to explain and discuss my project with other delegates.

‘The travel from Australia to attend the conference was complemented by the organisation of a visit to the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick. There I was able to meet with members of the group led by Dr Matt Gibson who are working on similar chemistry to that in my project. This visit was extremely beneficial for my PhD as Matt and his research group are more advanced in aspects of the surface chemistry than our group at Monash. I was also able to enter the lab and be shown methods and techniques that I can apply to my research back at our labs in Monash. It was also my first time working in a different lab and it was very interesting to see how different labs are run.

‘All in all the experience was extremely rewarding both personally and professionally. The CRS Edinburgh meeting was incredible for networking and broadened my range of contacts. I was able to show off my research to others in the field whilst being able to access their knowledge to further improve my own studies whether that be with techniques I can use, or improvements to my methods and questions to think about for future experiments. The visit to the University of Warwick was also helpful in similar ways by allowing me to meet my peers face-to-face and learn some of the expertise regarding metabolic labelling and ‘copper free’ click chemistry and bringing it back home.

Finally, I’d like to thank the SCI-RSC Rideal Trust for their financial contribution and making this experience possible.’

Nicolas Alcaraz,
PhD student, Monash University, Australia

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