Towards better drug delivery with Katja Petkau-Milroy

Her ambitions are very clear: improving the treatment of patients with better nanomedicines. Step by step Dr Katja Petkau-Milroy works towards this ambitious goal of a tailorable, reproducible, and highly controlled drug delivery system. One of the first steps is understanding the impact of dispersity on the performance of self-assembled nanoparticles.

The tunable drug delivery system Katja wants to develop, not only requires efficient drug encapsulation, but also well controlled drug release, ideally, only in the diseased tissue. A plethora of drug delivery vehicles are currently investigated, however the translation into the clinics is very limited. Her recent experience in pharmaceutical industry, in the business of complex injectable generics, thought her that this is often caused by working with ill-defined starting materials (polydisperse macromolecules). 

Controlled approach

Katja’s approach starts at the notion that full synthetic control over the molecular structure and molecular weight will give you control over the degradation of the nanoparticles and drug release. Using discrete macromolecules might as well lead to control over size, stability and architecture of the nanoparticles. How much control is needed and how much dispersity can be tolerated to achieve reproducible drug release is not known and will be investigated by artificially increasing the dispersity and studying the effect on drug release. Currently, the first discrete building blocks for self-assembly have been synthesized and the first measurements and results are coming in.

This controlled approach using discrete macromolecules will increase reproducibility and improve the odds of translation to the clinic in the long run. In time, the results will enable Katja to understand the relationship between molecular structure and function; an important step towards the ultimate goal of reproducible, stable and highly controllable nanoparticles for drug encapsulation and release.

Working together with students

Education is very important to Katja. She aims to convey some of her enthusiasm for her research to the students by letting them contribute to new insights in this research field. By working together, reaching goals together and learning how to turn set-backs into novel insight she hopes to contribute to the development of critical out-of-the-box thinkers.

Future ambitions

She is currently applying for funding with NWO to further grow towards an independent researcher with her ultimate goal of developing better nanomedicines. For at least the next 2.5 years, she will be part of our BME community, guiding our students and taking drug delivery step by step to the next level.

Katja Petkau – Milroy PhD

Katja Petkau – Milroy PhD obtained a chemistry degree (2008) in Germany at the TU Dortmund and the Max Planck institute for molecular physiology. During her PhD at the TU/e (2012) she has worked in the chemical biology group of Prof. Luc Brunsveld on the development of self-assembling auto-fluorescent amphiphiles as dynamic and modular tools for targeted imaging. After a short Postdoc she has been working in pharmaceutical R&D at Octoplus B.V (a Dr. Reddy’s subsidiary) in Leiden on liposomal and microspheric generics for sustained drug release. Since April 2016 she is a senior research fellow at the TU/e in the group of Prof. Bert Meijer. Now her wish is to combine her expertises from her PhD and pharmaceutical industry towards the development of controlled drug release using self-assembly of discrete polymers. She started a collaboration with Prof. Remco Tuinier (dept. of Chemical Engineering) who approaches this scientific challenge by modelling the self-assembly.

On November 8th 2017, Katja will give a presentation during the BME Colloquium.

This is the first article in a series introducing our new departmental colleagues.