KiwiNet News 9 December 2016

Young researcher developing ‘Squish’ treatment for strawberry birthmarks supported by KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme

Hamilton, 9 December 2016

Final year PhD student Sean Mackay from the University of Otago has received a $25,000 grant to aid the development of ‘Squish’, a targeted treatment for strawberry birthmarks which affects approximately 1 in 10 infants. The grant from the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme is one of ten to help researchers take clever ideas and work with business to take to market. It was made possible by a donation from the Norman Barry Foundation.

Sean Mackay from Otago University

Baby with strawberry birthmark

Mackay is part of a team of talented scientists and clinicians from the University of Otago, the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute, and the Centre for the Study & Treatment of Vascular Birthmarks based at Hutt Hospital in Wellington. They are working on a targeted drug delivery system to treat strawberry birthmarks, also known as infantile haemangioma.

25 year old Mackay, originally from the Kapiti Coast, says strawberry birthmarks are a type of vascular tumor. They are disfiguring, can affect bodily functions and are sometimes life-threatening.

"The goal is to develop a more effective and safer approach to treating infants by delivering the drug directly into the tumours using nanotechnology to carry the drug directly through the skin, rather than administering it orally. We are literally trying to 'Squish' drugs through the skin, hence the name for the technology," he says.

Dr Eng Tan, from Otago University's Chemistry Department, the lead researcher on the project says, "Current treatment for this debilitating disorder is Propranolol, a beta-blocker, taken orally, but it can cause adverse side effects. Creams that go on the skin are also not effective as they don't penetrate the cells effectively to enable drug delivery as required."

Mackay says it's fantastic to be awarded the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programmeing as it will be used to optimise the technology for stability, and increase its ability to effectively transport drugs into the tumour.

Dr James Hutchinson, CEO of KiwiNet says, "The commercialisation of this approach offers hope for the millions of children born with strawberry birthmarks every year. Patients are likely to experience fewer side effects while enhancing the efficiency of the drug therapy if they could be treated this way. KiwiNet is all about unlocking the innovative potential of our science for the benefit of New Zealanders, so we are thrilled to be able to support Sean on his journey to commercial success through our Emerging Innovator Fund"

Mackay completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry in 2012. He then worked as a research assistant developing targeted drug delivery systems for the treatment of neurological disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.

In 2013 he received a doctoral scholarship to pursue a PhD in the area of nanoscale and biomedical technologies in the Chemistry Department. Mackay specialises in nanotechnology, where his main research interest is in developing innovative medical technologies which control the way that drugs are administered to patients, making them more effective with fewer side-effects.

To date these have ranged from nanoparticles which can be remotely activated to release neurochemicals or neurochemical-like drugs in the brain to treat neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Epilepsy to wound-healing hydrogels.

John Smith, Chairman of the Norman Barry Foundation says, "We're delighted to be able to support Sean and this very important project that could have widespread benefit to children around the world. We're delighted to see our $250,000 donation making such an important difference to a wide range of amazing research projects with real commercial potential."

For further information please contact:
Sandra Lukey
Shine Group (PR for KiwiNet)
Cell: +64 21 2262 858

About KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme
The KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme was established in 2015 by KiwiNet with the generous philanthropic support of the Norman Barry Foundation. The aim of the Emerging Innovator Fund is to have more scientists with disruptive new ideas working alongside businesses to solve industry challenges. It is open to scientists from public research organisation who demonstrate a clever new idea and a willingness to work closely with industry as they develop a prototype. The KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme is available to early career researchers based at universities and Crown Research Institutes across New Zealand.

About the Norman Barry Foundation
The Norman Barry Foundation, is a charitable trust registered under the Charities Act 2005. Norman Barry was an entrepreneur and a philanthropist who established the Quality Hotel Parnell. During his successful business career, he mentored motel owners in Auckland who were new to the industry and helped various charitable organisations in the form of donations. Norman left his shareholding in Quality Hotel Parnell Limited to the Foundation, and the distributions from this Company to the Foundation are used for charitable donations. In addition, Quality Hotel Parnell Limited is also a registered charity in its own right and this company also makes donations to the community.