Statutory Professor of Biomaterials
Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology & Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS) & Department of Engineering Science
Tell us a bit about your role
I lead a research team developing new methods to deliver drugs that reduce the risk of harmful side effects in treating diseases such as cancer. Currently most drugs for most diseases are given by mouth or by injection. The problem with that is that they go everywhere in the body and a very small percentage goes to the disease site. The rest is at best flushed out of the body and at worst leads to major side effects. We’re developing vehicles – bubbles specifically – to encapsulate drugs so they are inactive until they reach the target site. We want to get as many as possible in the target region, and then trigger their release. To do this, we are using ultrasound as it’s very low risk, very convenient for doctors and patients, cheap and seems to be extremely effective. We also use magnetic fields to get the bubbles to the target area.
I pursued a very mixed set of subjects at school: Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry together with Latin, Art and General Studies; and whilst I had always been much happier solving mathematics and physics problems than writing essays, I very much enjoyed the opportunities for independence and creativity offered by Art. After a visit to the degree show for the Industrial Design course at the Royal College of Art I was determined to pursue a career as an industrial design engineer and so enrolled as an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering at UCL. During the final year of my degree, however, I became fascinated with ultrasound and subsequently the wider subject of medical physics and biomedical engineering.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
The opportunity to make new discoveries and develop new ideas that have the potential to make a positive difference in clinical practice. I very much enjoy working with other scientists and particularly clinicians to understand the challenges that require engineering solutions. The conventional view of engineering is not that of a creative subject, but I would argue that creativity is an essential component of my work and it is the combination of this with the need for scientific rigour that makes it so stimulating. I also greatly enjoy working with and leading a team of researchers, often from quite different backgrounds and seeing them develop into independent scientists and engineers.
Can you tell us about something you've done, contributed to that you're most proud of?
I am very excited that several of our research projects are now very close to clinical trials. We’ve already seen some very encouraging results in healthy volunteers on the use of bubbles that we’ve developed for alleviating tissue hypoxia; and we’re hoping to use these as a means of enhancing the effectiveness of cancer therapy.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
We’re already seeing tremendous benefits from medical and physical scientists and engineers working together and I very much hope that this trend continues. I’m also very excited about the exponential leaps that are being made in our understanding of the immune system and how this can be harnessed to develop completely new types of therapies for diseases such as cancer and crippling conditions such as arthritis.