Congratulations to Aria Ahmed-Cox, who has been awarded a Scientia PhD scholarship to optimise nanoparticles that carry drugs inside cancer cells.

Aria Ahmed-Cox has received a prestigious UNSW Scientia PhD scholarship to study at Children’s Cancer Institute. This scholarship scheme, which aims to attract the best and brightest from all over the globe, gives students the opportunity to do research that benefits the world while accelerating their research career.

Aria will be supervised by Professor Maria Kavallaris in our Tumour Biology and Targeting Program and  co-supervised by Prof Tom Davis at Monash University, and UNSW Art & Design’s A/Prof John McGhee.  Her project is entitled “Cancer Nanomedicine: Visualisation and Efficacy of Nanoparticle Delivery”. Current cancer therapies often cause side-effects that can leave survivors with life-long health problems. The aim of Aria’s project, which will bring together expertise from multiple disciplines including Medicine, Engineering, Chemistry and Art & Design, is to optimise nanoparticles as drug transporters to deliver drugs directly to cancer cells, without harming normal cells.

Delivering drugs directly to cancer cells

Advances in the field of nanomedicine could improve childhood cancer treatment. Our researchers have been investigating tiny particles (nanoparticles) that can be loaded up with chemotherapy drugs and deliver these drugs directly and specifically to cancer cells, sparing normal cells. We know that the physical properties of nanoparticles affect the way they enter cells in laboratories. However there’s limited knowledge about how, in a living organism, drug-loaded nanoparticles will be taken up by cancer cells, or how efficiently they will release their drug payload.

To find out more, Aria will ask questions like:

  • How does the size and shape of a drug-loaded nanoparticle affect the way it penetrates tumour cells and releases its drug?
  • How does the size and shape of a drug-loaded nanoparticle affect how much of it accumulates inside cancer or normal cells?

Using virtual reality to see science in a whole new way

Aria will work with A/Prof John McGhee to create an interactive virtual reality 3D model of her nanoparticles entering cancer cells. This is possible thanks to an ongoing collaboration between Prof Kavallaris and A/Prof McGhee. With their Journey to the Centre of the Cell project, they’re using scientific data, animation and virtual reality headsets to enable scientists to ‘walk’ through cancer cells.


This technology has the power to revolutionise our understanding of how molecules interact in living organisms, opening up a vista that, until now, scientists have only glimpsed. Aria hopes it will help her interpret and model her data so she can design better nanoparticles.

A desire to find better therapies for childhood cancer

Aria starts her PhD this month.  She’s not new to the Institute, having completed her Honours degree here in 2017, then working as a Research Assistant. She has a passion for research that makes a difference, and is excited by this new challenge. She’s keen to express her gratitude for the opportunity provided by this scholarship.

“I’m extremely humbled to be a recipient of this scholarship, and beyond excited to begin the journey,” she said.

“Working at Children’s Cancer Institute has contributed to my personal drive, and a desire to find better, less toxic therapies, particularly for childhood cancer.”


Aria wears her graduation regalia and holds her degree
Aria on her graduation day

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Top Image: Aria (left) with Professor Maria Kavallaris

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