The sleepy rural town of Sedan north of Adelaide is about as far away as you can get from the cutting edge world of hybrid drug delivery research. With a population of around 150 people it is here that PhD student and researcher Hayley Schultz grew up, attending a school with just 31 students when she finished year seven.
After completing high school at nearby Tanunda (population around 4000) Hayley was driven by her love of chemistry, biology and physics to enrol at the University of South Australia (UniSA) - and so her STEM career was born.Today Hayley is researching novel drug delivery methods to improve the oral delivery of medications.
Because around 40% of the drugs on the market are water soluble and poorly absorbed by the body, they often need to be prescribed in large amounts to deliver the required dose. As a result, patients can experience significant side effects.
With a team led by Professor Clive Prestidge, within the School of Pharmacy and Medical Science at UniSA, Hayley is focussing her research on developing a next generation oil-based pharmaceutical formulation to improve the absorption of drugs. As part of this pioneering work Hayley is specifically focused on a current drug prescribed for prostate cancer.
Currently patients are required to take a 1000mg dose of the drug, with less than 10% of the medicine being absorbed by the body for use. This large drug dose causes increased side effects and patients are also required to fast for two hours before, and after, taking the medication. However by developing an alternative oil-based formulation for the drug, patients will only need a much smaller dose and they no longer need to fast - making it easier for them to follow their medication regimen.
To make this a reality for clinical application, Hayley is working on producing a stable ‘supersaturated’ formulation that can be loaded with greater amounts of drug than is often possible. Preliminary testing is underway with feasible human clinical trials to commence within two to three years after collecting promising pre-clinical findings.
“If you had told me five years ago that I would be working on a project with the potential to improve the quality of life for cancer patients, I would have never believed you!” says Hayley. “But that’s what I love about science – you never know where it will lead you and the difference it could make to people’s lives. That’s why I want to lead by example and encourage more young people, especially girls, to pursue a career in STEM - it really is one of the most rewarding things you can do.”
Hayley’s goal is to complete her PhD and to find a collaborator or investor to take this drug delivery technology into human clinical trials – and to ultimately change the lives of patients.
If awarded the travel grant Hayley will use it to attend the Annual Meeting and Exposition of the Controlled Release Society in New York in July 2018.