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Meet the 2019 BJCP Early Career Researcher prize winners – Tamara van Donge and Warit Ruanglertboon

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Published: 02 Apr 2020

At Pharmacology 2019, prizes were awarded to several Early Career Researchers. We talked to the two BJCP winners, Dr Tamara van Donge and Warit Ruanglertboon, to find out more about their work, careers and interests.

Dr Tamara van Donge receiving the Early Career Researcher Prize from (then) BJCP Editor-in-Chief, Professor Adam Cohen

What excites you about pharmacology?

TvD: For me, pharmacology combines multiple interesting disciplines. You need to understand how a drug enters the body, how it finds the target site and finally how it is being eliminated from the body. You also need to figure out what type of cells the drug is working on and how this will affect the larger system. To find out how drugs work and find new ways of fighting diseases is like a big, complex puzzle.

WR: I was fascinated by the principles of drug action when I first studied pharmacology back in my pharmacy degree! Understanding the theory behind the compound-structure-activity relationships that influence pharmacokinetic properties encouraged me to take a mechanistic approach when advising clinical health professionals in a hospital setting. Pharmacology was also one of the most enjoyable topics during my bachelor’s degree. I wanted to further my basic and applied research, which prompted me come to Australia to pursue a PhD in clinical pharmacology.

Warit Ruanglertboon, Flinders University

What are the key points of your article and their implications?

TvD: Maternal opioid usage is increasing dramatically, which results in drug dependence and addiction in the foetuses. To treat the withdrawal symptoms that are caused by the abrupt discontinuation of in utero drug exposure, these (preterm) newborns often receive methadone treatment according to a complex dosing schedule with certain weaning period. Our study, Methodone dosing strategies in preterm neonates can be simplified, showed that the clearance of methadone increases with advancing gestational age and established the pharmacokinetic differences between the two methadone enantiomers (higher clearance and distribution volume for (R)-methadone). More importantly, the current methadone dosing schemes might be adjusted to a simpler, shorter dosing strategy. This may be of relevance in the current opioid epidemic we are facing.

WR: In Plasma extracellular nanovesicle (exosome) derived biomarkers for drug metabolism pathways: A novel approach to characterise variability in drug exposure, we were the first to thoroughly demonstrate the expression and activity of multiple cytochrome P450 (CYP) and UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT) enzymes derived from extracellular nanovesicles (exosomes). We also demonstrated the potential role of exosomes as a biomarker for drug-metabolising capacity in the patients. As such, we successfully observed the expression and activity of CYP3A4 enzyme in exosomes isolated from human plasma were concordant with the basal activity in vivo, as measured using the probe substrate approach. Our data provide strong support for the potential application for exosomes-derived biomarkers as a novel, non-invasive approach to characterise variability in drug exposure. In addition, we strongly believe that our data will provide a possibility to use exosomes as a biomarker for other ADME pathways (ADMExosomes). Eventually, we hope to overcome the need for tissue biopsy and other invasive patient procedures.

What are you currently working on? Take us through a typical day in your life!

TvD: I’m working on a project to explore creatinine dynamics in extremely low-birth-weight newborns. Although this project is not directly related to pharmacology, as no pharmacokinetic samples were collected, it is of relevance since we need to understand the discrepancy between the physiology and pathophysiology of kidney function in these newborns. Usually, a good day and good ideas start with a coffee. As a PhD student, my days are quite diverse. One day you are talking to parents and their children about a clinical study and the next day you are working behind your computer screen on your model code to describe the data collected in one of those trials.

WR: I’m working on three different projects in three different paradigms: one in clinical epidemiology, one in systems pharmacology and another in lab-based research (exosomes study). I usually begin my day with lab-based work in the early morning and try to finish setting up the experiments by noon. I normally spend my afternoon doing data analysis and manuscript writing. Reviewing the literature on related topics such as data science or epidemiology is also part of my day (when I have time).

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

TvD: During my first year as a student, I had never before lived away from home and I started my studies in another country at the age of 17. The language barrier was not the biggest issue (Flemish and Dutch are quite similar), but the differences in culture were where I struggled. Plunging into this new student life let me see how wonderful and enriching new cultures can be. From that moment on, I never avoided any challenge and this has resulted in me pursuing a PhD in paediatric pharmacology and pharmacometrics in Switzerland, which is the greatest challenge so far! We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges.

WR: Conducting cutting-edge research in which nobody knows the right answer or exactly how to accomplish the goal has been the biggest challenge for me so far. Our group has been trying a series of experiments with varying success over the last 3 years. But as Thomas Edison said, ‘I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work.’ I don’t mean that we’ve found 10,000 ways that do not work, but we have successfully narrowed the range of approaches to be tested.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

TvD: Living in Switzerland is like living in heaven for outdoorsy people. I love being outside in nature. Whether running along the riverside of the Rhine, hiking or cycling in the Swiss Alps during summer or enjoying the slopes during wintertime, it’s all possible!

WR: During my spare time, I enjoy any kind of exercise, but my favourite is table tennis. In the week I like to spend a few hours after work at the gym to exercise and refresh my mind. During the weekend, I have regular training at the Brighton Table Tennis Club in South Australia and I am also a registered coach at the club.

What’s next for you, and what do you hope to achieve over the course of your career?

TvD: As a young researcher, my career has only just started. I hope to defend the PhD thesis early next year and subsequently start with a position in pharmaceutical sciences, either in academia or industry. As for the future, I hope that the workplace looks beyond gender and empowers all women to follow their dreams.

WR: I am now in the last year of my PhD candidature. Once I finish, I will go back to Thailand and start my career as a researcher and lecturer at Prince of Songkla University. I wish to apply the knowledge I have cultivated in the Precision Medicine Group at Flinders University to improve the health-care system in my country. I would also like to emphasise the importance of pharmacological principles to medical and health-care professionals such as pharmacists and clinicians. To achieve this goal, I aim to integrate my experiences as both a pharmacist and an experimental pharmacologist to provide a high standard of teaching for every health-science course in my affiliated university.


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Published: 02 Apr 2020

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