13 June 2014

Martina Stenzel is a Professor of  Chemistry at the Centre for Advanced Macromolecular Design at the University of  New South Wales, and was a recipient of an ARC Future Fellowship in the inaugural 2009 round. Professor Stenzel has used her fellowship—which finished late last year—to investigate delivery methods for anti-cancer agents using nanotechnology.

"Winning the Future Fellowship gave me the time to think about my research more strategically,” said Professor Stenzel.

“I believe that chemistry should be there to help people, so I think about problems from this perspective, and about how my work in science can contribute to society a little more. This sometimes  means going out into the research community and crossing the discipline boundaries.”

Professor Stenzel has been reaching out to the medical profession to bridge the gap between the sometimes esoteric field of nanotechnology and that of health.

“There are lots of challenges in this…When I talk about nanoparticles, I find I need to use a new language according to my audience. But this is really invigorating and it can bring my work closer to those whom it can help.”

Professor Stenzel recently had time to  reflect during a visit to a medical colleague at the St George's Hospital.

“I was sitting there in the waiting room amongst cancer patients—and this was an eye opening moment for me, a  chemist who is used to work in the lab.”

Professor Stenzel said that her goal is  to tackle problems like cancer with a “sense of urgency and purpose” that comes from these sorts of meetings, and she has engaged with colleagues in medicine to  identify the big challenges from their perspective.

“It used to be the other way around, I’d go to them and say ‘I’ve found this crazy nanoparticle what can you do with  it?’, now I can talk to them and come back with a new perspective on how to channel my work into the areas that really need exploring at the molecular level.”

Reflecting on her achievements under the Future Fellowship, Professor Stenzel said her most important achievements to date have been in the ‘Platinum project’ which is the development of drug  delivery containers for targeted delivery of platinum-containing anticancer agents. And this research is progressing well.

“We now know what is required to get a lot of platinum drugs into the target cell, and we have found ways to improve this delivery through changing the properties of the nanoparticle containers—so, for  instance, we know now about the effects of changing their size and we know more  about their stability.

“Stability is important as a nanoparticle needs to disintegrate when it has finished its task of delivering a drug to the cell.  So now we are trying out degradable polymers that mimic nature—polypeptides—these have the same backbone as proteins and are already approved by the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) for use in medicines.

“Even if your cancer treatment is successful people want to know what will happen to the polymer capsule afterwards, and of course being a nanoparticle there is a lot of nervousness about it.

While the use of nanoparticles in hospitals to treat cancer patients is not routine, Professor Stenzel said she can see the pathway ahead.

“While there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to do this four years [of the Future Fellowship] has been a good time to develop this pathway.

“I understand now what is required to make these nanoparticles work. I understand a little bit more how they interact with cells now. But in the next decades I want to see that applied to help  people who are suffering from cancer.”

For more information regarding this research please contact Professor Martina Stenzel or The University of New South Wales.


Image: Professor Stenzel in the laboratory with Dr Hongxu Lu.
Image credit: Ms Jeaniffer Eliezar.