Prof’s lecture celebrates students

Prof Natalie Hughes highlighted the work of PhD students during her Inaugural professorial...
Prof Natalie Hughes highlighted the work of PhD students during her Inaugural professorial lecture. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
Collaboration and connection were common themes during the recent inaugural professorial lecture of University of Otago Professor Natalie Hughes.

Her lecture, titled "Molecules in Medicines: Transforming Research into Reality", touched on her career and highlighted contributions from her PhD students and collaborators, both locally and internationally.

Deputy dean of the School of Pharmacy and a pharmaceutical scientist, Prof Hughes began her connection to the University of Otago as a student in the early 1990s.

She spent time as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Kansas before returning to Dunedin in 1997 for her PhD graduation and has been at the university since then.

Prof Hughes discussed how a key component of her research has been the challenges of drug formulation and delivery.

Drugs are molecules that have activity and can improve health, but in their raw form, they are merely white powders, she said.

"We can’t give a white powder like this to a patient, the dose is uncontrolled, we don’t know how much they’re going to get."

Instead the drug needs to be converted into a usable and predictable dosage form.

Prof Hughes shared insights from research she has been involved in to optimise drug delivery.

At the University of Kansas, she contributed to the development of Bortezomib, a cancer drug used to treat multiple myeloma.

She enjoyed lecturing and supervising PhD students and their projects.

These have included researching neonate drug delivery, such as Dr Lisa Kremer’s project, "Little Drops for Little Eyes", which explored developing smaller eye drops for babies.

"There aren’t eye drops for babies, so large drops were being given to babies, and they were flooding the eye and maybe causing some adverse effects."

Another project was developing a standardised method of delivering ketamine for clinical trials using tablets instead of injectables.

"Ketamine is an old drug that is finding new uses in mental health."

Prof Hughes also supervised Dunedin writer Vanda Symon’s PhD thesis on communicating science through crime fiction.

"Crime fiction is better if science is portrayed correctly."

Prof Hughes thanked all her students, colleagues, friends, and family, particularly her children for their support and patience while she was travelling overseas for projects.

"What is important to me is the collaborations that I have been involved with, and the connections with people through research," she said.