Research Insider this week gets up close with Sara Wong, who is in her third year pursuing her PhD in Neuroscience, at the University of Nottingham UK. Sara who is also the co-founder of 100 Scientists of Malaysia is researching how to improve intranasal administration of oxytocin, dubbed as the “love hormone”. Oxytocin has potential therapeutic use in disorders that display socio-behaviour deficits such as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia. Research Insider also identifies the areas of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which the research covers and its impact.
What got you into your research field?
When I was first taught Biology, I really enjoyed it! Yet, I had no idea what to pursue aside medicine if I was interested in science. I was introduced to Biomedical Science by my STPM Biology teacher and loved the broad range of subjects under it. I gradually found myself drawn towards pharmacology (studying drugs and their effects on the human body) and later down the line, neuroscience (the study of the nervous system).
I found the brain fascinating! I loved learning about the different neurotransmitters, how neurones communicate and the pathways that go wrong with certain CNS diseases. I never turned back since.
What is the novelty of your research?
The main character of my research is the hormone and neuropeptide oxytocin. Oxytocin is known to modulate social behaviour, making it a popular drug of investigation for disorders with social behaviour deficits, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia. Unfortunately, oxytocin does not penetrate our brain efficiently if given via peripheral injections, due to the blood brain barrier, whose job is to keep things out of the brain! Thus, I look at administering oxytocin up the nose (intranasal) which solves the barrier issue and whether I can further improve intranasal delivery by combining oxytocin with a new carrier peptide.
Why is your research important?
Getting drugs to penetrate the brain efficiently is a huge problem. If we were to successfully improve drug penetration of the brain with a minimal effective dose and non-invasively, we would be able to treat the symptoms as well as decrease chances of unwanted side effects that may occur due to excess oxytocin levels outside the brain.
What is the SDG impact of your research?
Currently, there are no available medical treatment for social behaviour and cognition deficits aside from behavioural interventions in people with ASD. In people with schizophrenia, second-generation antipsychotics fail to improve negative (eg social withdrawal and loss of interest) and cognitive symptoms (eg memory). These symptoms are long-term and debilitating, often preventing them from reintegrating into society. Being able to treat these symptoms would ensure the health and wellbeing of these individuals, as well as relieve socio-economic burdens of countries.
Watch the third episode of Malaysian Research Insider, a webinar series organised by Malaysian Biosciences Scholars (MBIOS) and 100 Scientists of Malaysia in collaboration with Science Media Centre Malaysia with Sara Wong
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