School of Life Sciences

PhD Biochemist Searches for Improved Cervical Cancer Drug Delivery System

Dr Lorenzo David was awarded a PhD in Biochemistry for his assessment of transferrin-tagged palladium and gold-palladium nanoparticles and their potential for anticancer drug delivery.

For David – who did his undergraduate, honours and master’s degrees at UKZN – it was a natural progression to pursue his doctorate at the same institution. ‘I was very interested in the type of research being conducted in Professor Mogie Singh’s lab, which focuses on nano gene and drug delivery systems,’ he explained.

Singh elaborated: ‘Lorenzo commenced studies in his current research area during his master’s degree, which he obtained cum laude. His PhD study was a challenging one but it did not deter him and culminated in an excellent thesis from which one aspect has already been published in a high-impact journal.

‘Lorenzo is a humble, hard-working student, who at all times tries to give off his best. I am proud of his achievement thus far and hope that he takes this momentum forward into his future career.’

Said David: ‘Cancer is a devastating disease which affects millions of people around the world, with chemotherapy being one of the most common forms of treatment. Whilst chemotherapy is known to be highly effective in killing cancer cells, it is also highly toxic towards non-cancerous tissue, resulting in severe side effects.

‘My research focused on the development of a gold/palladium bimetallic drug delivery system, which was targeted towards cervical cancer cells using transferrin.

‘Many cancer cells over express receptors on their surface owing to their increased nutritional needs. My research took advantage of the over expression of transferrin receptors on the surface of the cancer cell line. Essentially, the nanoparticle will be preferentially taken up into cancer cells where they will release their drug payloads whilst leaving healthy tissue unaffected.’

David said it was hoped that this would reduce the severe side effects seen in traditional cancer therapy approaches.

‘I saw the devastating effect cancer and current treatment options had on a few close relatives and this encouraged me to gain a deeper and more personal understanding of the disease,’ he said. ‘I wanted to start my research journey in an area that could one day assist cancer patients more effectively.’

While the research is still in the early stages of development, David has successfully designed a nano drug delivery system which has the potential to be modified to be used in the treatment of different forms of the disease.

Looking ahead, David hopes to pursue an academic career in the tertiary environment.

He thanked his supervisor, lab colleagues, wife, parents, brother, extended family and friends for all their support during his doctoral journey.

‘Obtaining my PhD has been quite a roller coaster of a journey; however, the end result has made it all worthwhile!’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini