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.