Exploration into water and drugs scoops prestigious neutron scattering prize
28 Jul 2016



Research into the interactions between water and pharmaceuticals has resulted in a young researcher winning the B.T.M. Willis Prize for neutron scattering.

​Dr Kathi Edkins, Durham University, receiving the 2016 B.T.M Willis Prize from Dr Ian Tucker, Chair of the Institute of Physics and Royal Society of Chemistry Neutron Scattering Group. Credit: STFC

The ongoing research, which takes place at the Institut Laue-Langevin, the Bragg Institute and ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, will impact on the pharmaceutical industry by improving the efficiency of the process of new drug compounds reaching the market.

Dr Katharina Edkins, Durham University, uses neutron and X-ray diffraction combined with non-empirical crystal lattice energy calculation and solid-state analytical techniques to investigate whether water structure is important in pharmaceuticals by exploring the role of water in hydrated crystal structures. Her aim is to overcome some of the challenges these materials present to the formulation of safe and efficient drug delivery to the target area in the body. To fully understand and predict the drugs behaviour, Dr Edkins applies neutron and X-ray scattering to probe dominant interactions of drugs in solution, in order to tailor the design of future pharmaceutical materials.

In a parallel project, Dr Edkins is looking into supramolecular gels for the use in drug delivery, with particular focus on the diffusion of solvents within these colloids to tailor-make a gel for a certain application.

These two areas of research combined will impact on the pharmaceutical industry by improving the efficiency of the process of new drug compounds reaching the market and by providing a novel vehicle of drug delivery.

Dr Edkins is the eighth winner of this prestigious award, which is presented each year by the Neutron Scattering Group of the Institute of Physics (IOP) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) to a young researcher in recognition of outstanding contributions to neutron scattering science.

In response to being awarded the prize, Dr Edkins said: “Winning the B.T.M. Willis prize is a great honour and recognition of my work, and gives me a massive boost to continue neutron research. Without access to ISIS, and the open and helpful attitude of the instrument scientists, none of my research would have been possible, so I would like to send a big thank you to everyone involved.”

Dr Kathi Edkins, Durham University  

Dr Kathi Edkins, Durham University, gives an overview of her research at the 2016 Neutron and Muon Science User Meeting in Warwick. Credit: STFC View full-size image

At ISIS, Dr Edkins brings the unusual application of gels for drug delivery to the LET spectrometer, which compliments her work on IN16b beamline at the Institut Laue-Langevin. Meanwhile she uses SANDALS, a diffractometer especially designed for investigating the structure of liquids, to build on knowledge of hydrated crystals and see how the structure of the solution influences the crystallisation outcome of pharmaceuticals.

Dr Ian Tucker, Chair of the IOP/RSC Neutron Scattering group presented the prize. He said:

“During the last 5 years the competition to win the Willis prize has become very intense with some very excellent candidates. To be in the top 3 should be considered an achievement in itself. The Willis prize is judged every year by the 9 members of the NSG committee. This is a cross-discipline group covering physics, chemistry, biology, pharmacy, crystallography, polymers, hard and soft condensed matter, magnetism, high and low temperature materials, and engineering. Judging is never easy and the result this year, like the previous years, has been very close. With the standard of science amongst the top three candidates being so high and the glowing letters of support in triplicate, paper alone does not make a winner.”

“So why did Kathi win this year? Overall the committee voted her science to be the best, spanning several disciplines and the one thing which stood out was the way in which the medical aspects of her work on drug polymorphism studied using neutron methods were communicated. This along with her popular contribution to the community, serving on various instrument allocation panels, and high degree of team alignment in both experimentation and departmental matters demonstrated that she is capable of more than experimental research. Congratulations Dr Edkins, and well done.”​