We are handing over our blog to women working in the health and medical research field so they can share their personal and professional stories with us. This is a way to get to know other Franklin Women, learn about different health and medical research related careers (not just academia!) and promote the great contributions women make to the health and medical research field every single day! We will also use our blog as a way to share with you other important tit-bits as they come our way.
To see posts made by each of the authors, click on their name from the list to the left.
Meet Dr Carinna Hockham! Research Fellow and epidemiologist at The George Institute for Global Health. Here she discusses her recent work on a COVID-19 clinical trial, born out of her usual research area of chronic disease epidemiology.
What is your current role and how did you get to be there? I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Renal and Metabolic Division at The George Institute for Global Health. I have spent the last 2 years working in chronic disease epidemiology, with a focus on chronic kidney disease and diabetes, and their cardiovascular complications. My research involves the use of innovative trial designs to rapidly generate evidence for treatments in chronic disease, in particular kidney disease. In addition, I conduct observational research using routinely collected health data to understand health service utilisation, evidence–practice gaps and health outcomes in people living with a chronic disease.
Prior to my current role, I did a PhD in spatial epidemiology at the University of Oxford. My first degree was in biology, also from Oxford, and I have a master’s in control of infectious diseases from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community? In my current role, I have been fortunate to play a key part in the design and development of clinical trials in areas where there is currently no, or very limited, evidence for effective treatments. Knowing that these trials will generate evidence that will undoubtedly inform clinical practice is so fulfilling.
The first trial is one of angiotensin receptor blockers – a common blood pressure medication – for the treatment of COVID-19. We’ve adopted a range of novel trial features that are befitting to a pandemic, so it will be fascinating to see how it all works out and what we can learn for future trials. This mesh of my current non-communicable disease research and my prior training in infectious diseases has been really interesting for me.
The second main trial I am working on is a global adaptive platform trial to investigate a range of interventions for the treatment of calciphylaxis, a rare but devastating disease that mainly affects people with end-stage kidney disease. At present, there are no proven treatment options for calciphylaxis and so we have designed the trial in such a way to maximise the chances of finding an effective intervention, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
What is a project you would love to get off the ground or a skill you would like to develop, if you had the opportunity? So many things! Right now, my priority is getting the COVID-19 trial off the ground so that we can get the evidence we need as quickly as possible and hopefully provide options to clinicians and patients to help curb the severity of disease. In the medium to long term, I am keen to incorporate a sex and gender lens into my research to better understand differences in disease pathogenesis, treatment responses and health outcomes between sexes and genders. It’s an area I find completely fascinating – from both a biological and social perspective – and I would love for it to become standard in my future work. I’d also like to continue building my knowledge and experience of adaptive trial design, as I think it’s a really exciting area, particularly in therapeutic areas where conventional trials just don’t cut it or where research is lagging.
Lastly, I really want to learn more about the translation of research into clinical practice and health policy. Like how translation actually works – what the steps are, how to first engage with the relevant stakeholders, and the dos and don’ts of influencing policy. I’ve attended workshops and read up about it but it’s obviously not the same as doing it first-hand.
What are your loves outside of work? Most of my joy in life comes from spending time with my family and friends. I love weekends away with a big group or going on hikes with my partner. There are so many amazing places to visit in Australia and we have loved exploring them! I’m also a fan of trying new hobbies, like pottery and candle-making – they aren’t something I’d do all the time but it’s fun having a go.
I came to the podcast game quite late but my current favourites are The Adam Buxton Show, Off Menu and Grounded with Louis Theroux. I think they remind me of home J.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector? Always be open to learn new things but don’t apologise for the things that you don’t yet know. If it was meant to be easy, then there’d be no work for us to do!
Meet Dr Annie Quan! Annie is a Senior Market Access Associate at AbbVie Australia. Here she talks about her career and the role Franklin Women has played in her journey from lab scientist to working in industry bringing new drugs and technologies to market.
What is your current role and how did you get to be there? I am a Senior Market Access and Health Economics and Outcomes Research Associate in the Market Access and External Affairs Team at AbbVie Australia. My main responsibilities are involved in managing the processes of ensuring that patients can access new medicines quickly and continuously through the Australian reimbursement system.
I completed my PhD in neuroscience at the Children’s Medical Research Institute and the University of Sydney and was then awarded an NHMRC Fellowship. During this time, I also completed a Master of Commerce at University of NSW.
My journey to my current role was not obvious from the start of my research career. I was fortunate to participate as a mentee in the Franklin Women Mentoring Program in 2018. The program was pivotal as it created a professional platform for me to critically evaluate the direction of my research career, being a working mum with two young kids, while keeping true to the one continuing driver for my career to date, which has been my passion for making an impact and improving health outcomes, whether through my own research discoveries or witnessing new technologies improve the wellbeing of patients. So, I decided to combine my extensive scientific and research experience with my commercial and business economics training to make the move into Market Access. Fortuitously, at a Franklin Women breakfast event, I connected with my current manager and the insightful discussions guided my decision to transition to my current role. Thank you, Franklin Women!
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community? In my research career, I worked on understanding what goes wrong in brain cell communication and how new drugs work in debilitating neurodegenerative and immunological diseases. I found the greatest impact of my own research work was uncovering fundamental scientific knowledge, just like fitting a few pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle.
My new career is like moving along the timeline of drug development, now at the final late stage of ensuring new medicines with the greatest health benefits can be accessed by patients in a timely manner.
What is a project you would love to get off the ground or a skill you would like to develop, if you had the opportunity? Market Access is a multidisciplinary skilled profession ranging from research data analysis and interpretation, health economics and policy, pricing and finance, and relationship building. I would love to continue the journey of development, growth and learning by delving deeper into the field of health economics and policy to help determine which technologies bring the greatest benefits to patients.
What are your loves outside of work? First and foremost is spending invaluable time with my wonderful family, my husband and two children. I enjoy travelling and following the food trail, sampling different cuisines from around the world. When I find the time, on the creative side I love cake decorating.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector? Be open to new opportunities and take the risks. When it came to the critical decision-making time for my career, I found that thinking beyond what I already knew from my academic training and work experience, drawing inspiration from a mentor, holding a growth mindset, and reaching out to my support networks helped me make the change and take the ‘leap of faith’.
Meet Lahiru Gangoda! Senior Postdoctoral Fellow and cancer researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Here she discusses her research into overcoming treatment resistance in cancer, love of travel and advice for women in the early stages of their career.
What is your current role and how did you get to be there? I am a Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI). Following an undergraduate degree from Sri Lanka, I came to Australia as an international student to pursue a master’s degree in malaria research, and continued in this field as a research assistant. I started my PhD in 2010 and developed an interest in understanding how cell death is mis-regulated in cancer and other diseases. Following my PhD, I started my first postdoctoral position, also at La Trobe University, where I investigated ways to improve treatment for a range of cancers. I then moved to WEHI where I was fortunate to get a postdoctoral position with A/Prof Marco Herold to investigate mechanisms of treatment resistance in melanoma. By working in five different research labs and two institutes during the last 15 years, I have gained invaluable skills to broaden my collaborative networks.
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community? My overall research interest is in overcoming treatment resistance in cancer. My current project aims to develop better treatments for patients with melanoma. The incidence of melanoma is so high in this country, it has been referred to as ‘Australia’s national cancer’. As many advanced melanomas respond poorly to current anti-cancer treatments, research into new treatment options is extremely important. This is where my research interest lies. The new knowledge gained from my project will benefit the broader community including cancer researchers, oncologists, and cancer patients and their families.
What is a project you would love to get off the ground or a skill you would like to develop, if you had the opportunity? I am also interested in improving treatment outcomes for neuroblastoma patients. Neuroblastoma is the third most common childhood cancer. A quarter of most hard-to-treat neuroblastomas have increased N-Myc protein levels. Previously, using cell lines, I found that these N-Myc high cells also have more cathepsin proteins which help cancer to progress. I would now like to test whether blocking these cathepsins in N-Myc high, hard-to-treat neuroblastoma cells can make them respond better to treatment with anti-cancer drugs in a more clinically relevant setting using patient samples.
What are your loves outside of work? My family and I absolutely love to travel. At least once a year we try to visit a place we haven’t been before and explore a different culture and gain new experiences. I am fortunate to be a scientist as you typically get to travel to awesome places around the world for conferences, to talk about your work and meet other cool scientists. I also love to capture these adventures on my camera.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector? My advice to women scientists is to be confident in your abilities, and find good support and mentoring in your network. Especially at early stages of your career, this confidence may be hard to come by, but you have to stick to your guns. Speak out about the challenges that you face so that others can find better ways to support you. Believe in yourself and believe that what you do is valuable for society.
Meet Gill Stannard, naturopath, mentor, cancer survivor and advocate. Read on to learn more about her role as a healthcare consumer collaborating with researchers to improve outcomes for women with ovarian cancer.
What is your current role and how did you get to be there? I’m a cancer advocate and consumer in research. As the Survivors Teaching Students (STS) program run by the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) so eloquently puts it, I gained a ‘Personal history of Disease’ when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013. I’m currently working with three research teams as a consumer, am a member of Consumer Advisory Panel of the Translational Cancer Research Network (TCRN), an STS presenter and a consumer advisor for the Cancer Council NSW Cancer Research Division internal ovarian cancer research program.
I’ve always had a passion for health and moved to Australia in the late 1980s to study naturopathy, graduating with the freshly minted Diploma of Applied Science and a passion for research. Having an ability to understand medical research isn’t necessary as a consumer, but I find it incredibly useful. Prior to naturopathy I gained a political science degree, worked as a research assistant on the Australian Veterans Health Studies into the effects of Agent Orange and at the Anti-Cancer Council in Victoria (as it was previously known).
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community? It’s deeply satisfying to know that sharing my experience of ovarian cancer may ultimately improve outcomes for other women with this disease. As a consumer, my involvement is to bring a greater understanding of how proposed research will impact patients. For example, after sharing my experience of chemotherapy with one researcher, they changed the slant of their grant application. I’ve visited labs, attended team meetings and edited a lot of plain English research summaries.
While most of this work is with individual research teams, one aspect of our work on the TCRN Consumer Advisory Panel is to run a number of workshops every year with TCRN members. These are a bit like speed dating, with scientists and clinicians having 15 minutes to pitch their research to a small group of panel members. We provide feedback about their proposal with fresh eyes. I usually come away from those days exhausted but inspired!
What is a project you would love to get off the ground or a skill you would like to develop, if you had the opportunity? Just one? I’ve got a pretty big wish list! I would love to be involved with researchers investigating less toxic and more effective first-line treatments for ovarian cancer. The current chemotherapy regime hasn’t changed in the past 30 years and still eventually fails at least 70% of women who undergo it. While there are some promising projects focused on disease recurrence, we’ve got to find a more effective and less debilitating initial response.
Involvement in the STS program, sharing our stories with clinical groups and allied health students, goes part of the way to raising greater clinical awareness of ovarian cancer. But there’s scope for research into why most women present multiple times to their doctor before being referred for investigations. Creating effective strategies for earlier detection can save lives now.
And of course, as a naturopath, I’d like to see greater collaboration between CAM practitioners and oncology teams to help our patients minimise the side effects of, and improve recovery from, invasive cancer treatments.
What are your loves outside of work? Meeting interesting people, sharing food and exploring nature. I love travel and am always planning my next adventure (which was supposed to be Scandinavia!). As an ex–food blogger, I’m a bit obsessed about cooking, eating and growing veggies.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector? Get to know yourself. I mentor complementary health practitioners and my biggest advice is to always be authentic. Life’s too short to follow a career shaped by other people’s expectations. Your gut doesn’t lie, it tells you when you’re straying off course. Listen! Be brave, follow your passions and carve your own path. We need more mavericks.
Meet Fontaine Foxworth, Product Manager at Google. She is passionate about building ‘humane technology’ and, when not building software, is talking about feelings, hosting philosophy nights, salsa dancing or sailing on Sydney Harbour. Below she talks about her career and why she believes EI > AI.
What is your current role and how did you get to be there? I'm a Product Manager at Google – that means I work with a team of software engineers to prioritise and build new features for various software products at Google. Currently I'm working on Blogger, though I've also worked on Google Maps and Google Analytics. Before coming to Google, I worked at an eCommerce site called ModCloth – kind of similar to The Iconic, but in the United States. I studied Civil Engineering (fun fact: I used to work on a construction site!), but I took a computer science course at the end of my degree, and discovered what I really loved was building things with technology, not concrete. I love how quickly we learn, and ultimately how you can apply a computer-science way of thinking to almost any problem you encounter. Most things I've learned about technology have been from the job, not from the classroom. I always find that it's not what you know, it's how fast you can learn. This is a fast-moving industry, and I love how many fields I've gotten to learn about while in it.
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community? Tech deeply shapes how we communicate and learn as human beings, so when I think about ‘the community’, I think about the society we live in. I have a lot of fears and anxieties about what tech has done to people's ability to communicate and connect (online bullying or social media loneliness are great examples), so I always try to bring mental health and emotional impact of products into the discussion. Looking at mental health or the ethics of what we build isn't part of the traditional job description, but I think it's important nonetheless. One of the communities I've been partnering with over the last year is the Center for Humane Technology, a non-profit addressing the harmful extractive attention economy by inspiring a new race to build humane technology that aligns with humanity.
What is a project you would love to get off the ground or a skill you would like to develop, if you had the opportunity? I want to teach more people emotional literacy skills! I think emotional literacy is at the crux of a lot of challenges we are dealing with as a society today, and I am constantly looking for opportunities for people to develop and exercise these skills. Among these might be active listening, presenting with confidence, naming emotions, social awareness, empathy, etc.
What are your loves outside of work? I am a big sailor, salsa dancer and reader! One of my favourite things to do is ask people, "what are you reading?" It's a great way to learn about who they are and what they value.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector? Get to know yourself. In a world where computers are starting to know us better than we know ourselves, self-knowledge may become the real differentiator in work and life. You can get to know yourself in a million ways – which one will you choose.
Meet Simran Kaur, a PhD student researching Rett syndrome at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and recipient of our Round 2 2019 Carer’s Travel Scholarship (congratulations!). Below she talks about her career and how this scholarship has helped its progression:
Tell us about your current role and how you got to be there? I was all prepared to be an engineer when I tasted a bit of biology flavour from one of our family friends; so Bachelor of ‘Engineering’ in ‘Biotechnology’ (from Panjab University, India) was the best bet for me! I then went on to complete two master’s degrees. Later I was welcomed by Prof Kathryn North and the late Dr Nigel Clarke to work with them at the Institute of Neuroscience and Muscle Research. They provided a very supportive environment that matured me into a confident researcher.
Currently, I am (hopefully!) in the last stage of my PhD studies at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. My constant desire to be involved in research, support and blessings from my parents, and constant guidance from other researchers have helped me a lot to continue my studies. There was a lot of social pressure before and after marriage, but I only remembered my parents saying “Just keep going and never look back”.
How does your work contribute to the health and wellbeing of the community? My work is currently focused on Rett syndrome (RTT) which is a severe brain disorder that affects 1 in 10,000 girls and even fewer boys. My work involves a combination of genomics and functional genomic techniques to identify and functionally validate the identified causative gene(s) in RTT patients. As an RTT researcher, I feel blessed to work towards finding the causative gene in these genetically diagnosed cases so as to end their long arduous diagnostic odyssey and pave the way to future specific therapeutics.
Congratulations! You were a recipient of the Franklin Women Carer’s Travel Scholarship! Could you tell us a bit more about what that meant for you, your family and/or your career? For some (including myself), life changes a lot after marriage and becoming a parent, especially when you are a student and there is not much help around. Despite all the odds, I was determined to pursue my PhD and take care of my son along the way. But suddenly, when he turned 1, he constantly suffered from extreme breathing problems such that we would turn up in hospital after every 3–4 weeks, including a visit to the intensive care unit. So during the first 3 years of my PhD, I focused on only attending local conferences. But then I got this amazing opportunity to present a poster at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) in Houston, USA. I was also keen to visit my supportive collaborators at the University of Michigan and University of Washington.
The real challenge was to manage the care of my son. It would be challenging for his health to travel to the USA with me, so my husband would have to take unpaid leave from work to take care of our son, which would have been financially challenging for us.
I am so thankful for the support of the Franklin Women Carer’s Travel Scholarship that allowed me to focus on the conference and lab visits instead of juggling with day-to-day finances.
What advice do you have for other women in the sector who are juggling primary caring responsibilities with international conference participation? (besides applying for the FW Carer’s Travel Scholarship of course!): “Where there is a will, there is a way”. The other options that you can try are:
- Make a budget and keep an eye on conference travel schemes way ahead of time
- Check if your institute/university has a conference carer’s travel scheme
- Speak with your supervisors to see if they could help
- I reached out to the sales representatives of companies that we usually get our bulk products from to see if they would be interested to contribute towards small expenses
- I also checked our city council community to see if there was any support for travelling mothers
- Approach philanthropic communities
But I strongly feel that we need more institute-wide carer scholarships to help struggling parents to pursue their dreams while taking care of their loved ones. Franklin Women has initiated this effort but other organisations should also join hands as well.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? I am very keen to develop my skills in leadership and science communication along with volunteer teaching
Meet Rachel Mudge! Rachel is Head of Research Partnerships at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. She is also mum to two boisterous boys and enjoys weekends full of their sporting commitments, sewing, and squeezing in the odd social event of her own with and without her husband.
What is your training in the health or medical science field? My formal qualifications are a Bachelor of Science (Hons) and a PhD from The University of Melbourne. My PhD was in breast cancer metastasis to bone, in the lab doing molecular and cellular biology and preclinical models at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) in Melbourne. My husband and I then chose where in the world we wanted to live and looked for opportunities in Paris. I was very lucky to work at the Institut Curie, a big cancer hospital and research institute, on cancer metastasis for nearly 3 years, then returned to SVI.
Tell us about your current role and how you got to be there? I’m Head of Research Partnerships at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. It’s a fantastic, interesting role that combines lots of the skills and knowledge that I’ve picked up over the years. I’m thrilled to still be involved in medical research and using the expertise I gained as a research scientist, 10 years after I left the lab.
I started in grants administration after leaving benchwork and having had two boys. That grew into a management role including grants management and research integrity and governance. I even did a year as Fundraising Manager, promoting the amazing medical research at SVI to supporters.
It was time for a change though and after about 6 months off, my current role came along at exactly the right time. It was a perfect fit for me, I don’t think I could have dreamed it up, so it pays to be open to the opportunities that arise.
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? I’m excited to be establishing the National Endometriosis Clinical and Scientific Trials (NECST) Network. Having had a colourful personal gynaecological and obstetric history myself, including endometriosis and adenomyosis, I have a great personal interest in helping to coordinate the fantastic research around Australia to benefit women with endometriosis. It has been a greatly underfunded area of research, and it’s exciting that new funding of $9 million for research through the MRFF was announced following on from the National Action Plan for Endometriosis recommendations.
What are some of the major ‘outputs’ from your work? This year we have established a Jean Hailes for Women’s Health Travel Fellowship program and I have the joy of strategically choosing institutions and researchers to benefit. In turn, we are able to access their expertise for our communications and to disseminate their results to women and health professionals. This will culminate each year in a Jean Hailes Women’s Health Symposium bringing together the fellows, their supervisors, and other researchers and clinicians with an interest in women’s health, which should qualify as a major output!
How do you think your work contributes to the field and/or the overall health of the community? Jean Hailes is doing fantastic things for the health of Australian women. We are inspired by Dr Jean Hailes herself who said, “If a woman is in good health, her family, community and the society around her also benefit.”
Our website is full of evidence-based articles and information on a broad variety of issues, and includes information for health professionals and an anxiety portal. Whoops, feels like I’m spruiking for us now, but you should check it out! Being a part of raising awareness for women’s health and promoting collaborations amongst researchers is motivating and rewarding.
Who do you collaborate with and how did those work relationships come about? I have an exciting long list of collaborations as befits my role in research partnerships. We have been approached to be a partner on NHMRC Partnership Grants or Centres for Research Excellence in some cases, and in others we have approached institutions or researchers to work with us. We have great relationships with The George Institute of Global Health, Monash University, the Women’s Hospital, University of Queensland, other research institutes and the Heart Foundation – just some examples of the variety of collaborations.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? Women’s health has long been an interest so I’m happy to be developing this passion. I’m also keen to learn more about leadership and enjoy encouraging women in science to find a flexible career path to suit them!
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? Can I say red wine?! Otherwise it’d be cheese, which usually involves the red wine too...
Meet Professor Jenny Martin! The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at the University of Wollongong. She is an avid blogger and a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion in science and was one of the founding drivers of the Science and Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative in Australia. She will be the guest speaker at our upcoming event In Conversation with Jenny Martin.
What is your training in the health or medical science field? Pharmacy, including a Bachelor degree, Masters and a PhD in protein crystallography.
What is your current role and what previous key roles have you held in your career journey? I am currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at the University of Wollongong, and previously Director of the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (Griffith University) and ARC Laureate Research Fellow (University of Queensland).
What is one of your favourite projects that you have worked on? DsbA, a bacterial enzyme, has been my constant companion since my postdoc days in Rockefeller Uni, NY; that was more than 25 years ago!
What was one of your most memorable collaborations and how did those relationships come about? About 10 years ago, a collaboration with Defence Science and Technology in the UK came about when their scientists discovered that knocking out DsbA from a bacteria they were investigating rendered the bacteria harmless. The scientists contacted me to see if I would like to collaborate. It so happened that at the time I was on sabbatical in the UK, and simply had to drive down the M34 to meet with them. The collaboration continues to this day. Timing is everything.
What about your career are you most looking forward to sharing with the Franklin Women audience during the upcoming In Conversation event? My shadow CV, which includes the aspects of a track record not usually included in a CV because they weren’t successful.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are currently working on? Walking, baking, pilates, catching up with friends and family, the arts/theatre, searching the world for the ultimate cream tea.
What one piece of advice would you offer a woman following a career in the health and medical research sector? Carve your own path.
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? Vitamin C (chocolate)
Meet Harriet Swearman!! PhD candidate with the University of Sydney and the newest member of the Franklin Women Peer Advisory Group (Student Representative). Learn about her role at FW, her research into fertility, and her love of travelling and the great outdoors (definitely a lot more fun in the Australian climate than her native UK!):
What is your training in the health or medical science field? I completed my undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh in 2009, and a Masters in Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) shortly after. Since then I have trained in clinics in the UK and Sydney and am a fully qualified Clinical Embryologist (the person who sits behind those giant microscopes and injects sperm into oocytes to make babies!). In parallel to my Embryologist role, I am currently in the 3rd year of my PhD through the University of Sydney.
What is your role with Franklin Women, and what motivated you to join? My role within Franklin Women is to make sure the student population is represented. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to join FW as Women in STEM is something I feel very strongly about. However, importantly in my role as Student Representative, I think it is vital to help students in research degrees understand their options on graduating and how to navigate their way into industry. FW offers a unique platform through which we can help bridge this gap.
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? As part of my PhD, I have had the amazing opportunity to work closely with some of our patients at the fertility centre on a clinical trial. I have been involved in the end-to-end process for this, including writing and securing our ethics license, devising the trial protocol, and recruitment. It has been an invaluable learning curve, and encouraged me to consider more broadly potential roles in industry clinical trial management on completion of my PhD.
What are some of the major ‘outputs’ from your work? The nature of my work is heavily translational, working very closely with patients, which means I can see the direct benefits of the research being put into practice clinically - through the clinical trial we are trying to improve the fertilization rates for patients undergoing IVF. Besides the human trial, I am also involved in studies using animal models – more specifically, we are looking into the effect of the laboratory environment on organelles inside the oocyte and how this may impact the result of an IVF cycle. As part of this, we have shown the impact of changing pH on the meiotic spindle inside mouse oocytes. The next piece of work will be to understand what the effect of this change to the spindle has on the embryo which is created once the egg is fertilized.
How do you think your work contributes to the health of the community? The impact of our work has a direct effect on those individuals undergoing fertility assisting treatment. The field has broadened significantly in recent years with the introduction of newer sequencing techniques to test embryos in a bid to combat genetic disease, and perhaps more controversially, the potential to edit the genome and remove faulty sequences. It’s an area of clinical science whereby ethical consideration already plays a key part, and will increasingly continue to do so given the wide implications on the community.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? I am a bit of a keen cyclist – a few years ago I took part in Ride Across Britain and cycled from John O’Groats in Scotland to Lands End in Devon, 1580km in 9 days! I loved it and am keen to explore a bit more of Australia by bike (that’s if I can persuade my husband to Lycra-up and join me)…
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? CHEESE... any cheese with a nice glass of red wine – perfection!
Meet Dr Erin McGillick! A NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow focussed on investigating the effect of pregnancy complications on fetal lung development and identifying ways to improve the transition from fetal to newborn life.
What is your training in the health or medical science field? I’m a very proud Adelaidean, completing both my undergraduate and postgraduate study at the University of South Australia. I trained as a medical scientist, completing my Bachelor of Laboratory Medicine in 2012. During my honours year, I focussed on investigating the effect of pregnancy complications on fetal lung development, particularly understanding how preterm birth, maternal obesity and maternal diabetes affects lung development at the molecular level. A field of research I continued in to complete my PhD (2012-2016). As part of my PhD research, I also had the amazing opportunity to work at the University of Cambridge to gain a greater understanding of the effects of severity and timing of chronic hypoxia during pregnancy on lung development.
What is your role and how did you get to be a research fellow at The Ritchie Centre? Upon completion of my PhD in 2016, I was recruited to The Ritchie Centre (Hudson Institute of Medical Research and Monash University) in Melbourne, which is Australia’s leading perinatal research centre. During my honours and PhD, I had closely followed the fascinating research being undertaken in The Ritchie Centre and I had established networks with their researchers while attending conferences, so it was the perfect fit to expand my research focus as a postdoctoral fellow. In my current position, I’m able to bring together a strong background in molecular, structural and functional aspects of fetal and newborn physiology to identify mechanisms and interventions to improve the transition from fetal to newborn life. My research is currently supported by a NHMRC Early Career Fellowship.
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? An absolute highlight of my research is synchrotron imaging studies both in Australia and Japan. The synchrotron accelerates electrons close to the speed of light, producing X-rays one million times brighter than the sun, which allows us to see what is happening in the lungs from the first breath in our pre-clinical models. The knowledge from these studies can then inform clinical trials to improve outcomes for newborn babies. This work will also progress to a clinical trial to implement interventions in the delivery room to reduce the risk of babies developing this condition, which I am very excited to be a part of!
What are some of the major ‘outputs’ from your work? I have published 21 peer reviewed articles on factors regulating normal and abnormal fetal lung development, maternal diseases affecting the newborn and understanding factors regulating the transition from fetal to newborn life.
I absolutely love science communication and getting the opportunity to share my research with others. I have had the opportunity to present my research at over 50 occasions, at national and international conferences, which has given me the chance to travel internationally to the UK, Italy, USA and Canada. One of the most rewarding experiences was having the opportunity to run a delivery room audit workshop integrating my knowledge of fetal/newborn physiology with observations from the delivery room during my time working in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Who do you collaborate with and how did those work relationships come about?I am very fortunate to work as part of a large multidisciplinary team. My studies involve national and international physiologists, physicists, synchrotron scientists and clinicians. This ensures that we are researching and generating the necessary findings to address the most critical issues in perinatal medicine and that these findings can be translated back into clinical studies to improve newborn outcomes. I absolutely love the diversity and that there is always something to learn or a different way to think about a problem! The biggest highlight to date was having the opportunity to gain international clinical research experience with collaborators working on a clinical trial at a neonatal intensive care unit in the Netherlands. This study was based on some findings from my group’s synchrotron imaging studies to improve the transition to spontaneous breathing in the delivery room in premature newborns. During this time, I was incredibly privileged to attend births and work as part of a team caring for the most vulnerable babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? I am passionate about sharing the wonders of science and physiology with others through science communication in any way possible. I particularly enjoyed engaging with the general public as a science curator at ‘The Amazing Bodies’ anatomy and physiology exhibition. I was fortunate to take part in the Fresh Science program where I won a prize for best science communication by limerick at a public engagement event. I am also focussing on expanding my leadership training, as I work towards establishing myself as an independent researcher in perinatal medicine.
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? Chocolate…I highly recommend Haigh’s truffles and mint peppermint frogs!