Denzil Furtado: working at the frontier of biology and engineering

The Bachelor of Biomedicine alumni, former competitive athlete and now 2020 Westpac Future Leaders Scholar, discusses his PhD research into drug delivery for rare diseases.

Denzil is passionate about solving some of healthcare’s most significant challenges. He wants to leverage insights from the disciplines of engineering and biology to generate scalable therapies that transform the lives of patients.

Working within Professor Frank Caruso’s Nanostructured Interfaces and Materials Science (NIMS) Group, in the Melbourne School of Engineering, Denzil is involved in building and studying nanoparticle systems with the ultimate goal of developing drug delivery platforms that can be used in biomedical applications.

The talented graduate researcher has now been recognized through the Westpac Future Leadership scholarship – a life changing program that awarded 15 scholarships this year across Australia’s leading universities. The scholarship supports future leaders and exceptional thinkers with their postgraduate studies including financial support and leadership development.

Beginning his PhD in April, Denzil has had to settle into remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic – focusing on his research project, planning experiments and delving into the literature.

“There are estimated to be more than 7000 unique rare diseases worldwide, affecting approximately 3.5–6% of the world’s population,” says Denzil.

“For many of these diseases, the underlying cause is already known, finding its basis in an inherited mutation of single genes. Yet, despite our knowledge of the underlying cause, many patients continue to suffer for want of a disease-modifying treatment.”

Gene therapy is a promising treatment option for patients with the recent regulatory approvals of two gene therapies—Luxturna to treat an inherited retinal disorder and Zolgensma for spinal muscular atrophy – suggesting that the technology is viable.

“The central challenge still surrounding many gene therapy applications, especially those involving the central nervous system, is precise delivery to the organs and cells where the medicine is needed. This is the broad challenge that I am undertaking to solve during my PhD, in the hopes that scientific discovery can be an enabler of new medicines,” Denzil says.

Completing his Bachelor of Biomedicine (Degree with Honours) at the University of Melbourne with First Class Honours, Denzil majored in Neuroscience/Bioengineering Systems. This included an Alzheimer's disease (AD) research project under the supervision of Professor Ashley Bush at the Florey Institute.

You can read more about Denzil and other inspiring Biomedicine alumni here.

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