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“When the research I’m doing in the lab can be translated for future use in the clinic to the benefit of patients – that’s really amazing.”
German born and educated with research and work experience stints in New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark, Katharina Richter is now hoping to change the lives of those suffering from chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) through her PhD at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research (BHI).
With an interest in drug targeting and drug delivery, Katharina is currently undertaking research to develop new ways to treat biofilms, a thin and usually resistant layer of microorganisms (bacteria) that form on and coat various surfaces.
What is Chronic Rhinosinusitis?
CRS is a persistent inflammation of the mucosa of the sinuses that lasts for over 12 weeks. Katharina explained that it is seen in people of all ages, from small children to the elderly.
“Officially, it affects around 10 per cent of the Australian population, but I believe this number is probably a lot higher,” she said.
“CRS patients suffer for example from a constant blocked nose, headaches and can have difficulty breathing, smelling and tasting.”
By examining the biofilms that form on the sinuses, Katharina is looking closely at the bacteria that live inside them.
“To treat an illness effectively you first have to work out the cause – with CRS, this is bacterial biofilms,” she said.
“Bacteria hiding in the biofilms are often antibiotic-resistant, so I’m now looking at new ways to fight the bacteria.”
“Specifically, I’m investigating two compounds that have indicated they may help kill the bacteria by a mechanism not shared by antibiotics.”
“We now want to put these two compounds inside a gel that is already frequently used in the clinic after sinus surgery. This improves the healing process and could further help by killing the bacteria,” Katharina said.
Passion and personality
With a vibrant personality and a passion for making science entertaining, Katharina won the best presentation at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (TQEH) Research Day in the junior PhD category in October last year.
She also has a passion for exploring the world and ensuring her research is internationally collaborative.
In May this year and supported by a THRF grant, Katharina is undertaking a research visit to the world’s number 1 biofilm institute, the Costerton Biofilm Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“People at The Costerton Biofilm Centre do world class research with biofilms and they are also experts in microscopy,” Katharina said.
“They are happy to share their advanced knowledge with me, and that’s so thrilling. I will bring back this knowledge to Australia and I believe the research visit will be of great benefit for researchers at our Institute and in the end for patients.”
Due to complete her PhD in two years, Katharina is very grateful for the support of the generous donors supporting THRF.
“My research would not be possible without support from THRF and I’m excited about the possibility of developing a novel treatment strategy that will really benefit the millions of Australians suffering from CRS.”