What is your field of medical research?
I am a microbiologist by training and have an interest in understanding how gut bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella cause disease.
Infections with these bacteria cause hundreds of millions of cases of severe gastrointestinal disease worldwide each year, resulting in at least 200,000 deaths, particularly in malnourished children.
An important part of my research is to understand the specific immune responses the body mounts to fight infections with these bacteria. By understanding these immune responses, we can aid the development of an effective vaccine and therapeutics.
In studying gastrointestinal infections, we also learn a lot about immune responses that contribute to inflammatory disorders of the bowel such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). I hope that my research will also impact treatment and prevention of IBD, a disease that is becoming alarmingly prevalent in our society today.
What drives and inspires you?
The excitement of discovery is the major driving factor in my everyday research. I love it, I feel so compelled by the idea that I might be seeing something for the first time, to be making a difference, even if in small steps. When you are committed to research long-term, these small steps often lead to large and important developments for human health. I also like the challenge of completing something difficult, solving a puzzle and ending up with new information that fits into a much larger scientific picture.
Can you tell us about a project you’re working on at the moment?
Last year I was very fortunate to be one of six Australian female scientists to receive a L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellowship. The Fellowship provided $25,000 towards starting my independent research career. I have used this money to help fund a project aimed at understanding how the gut microbiota contributes to disease outcomes during serious bacterial gut infection.
Recent funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council will also allow me to study a ‘master regulator’ of our immune system. This regulator is critical in maintaining balanced immune system function, especially in our gut. I am investigating the role of this regulator in protecting against serious bacterial gut infections and also its role in protecting against IBD.
What do you hope to have achieved by the time you retire?
Firstly, I hope to have and share a happy life with those close to me. I also hope that I can inspire young researchers to find what their real passion is and pursue that, in science or otherwise. I’d like to see women feel more empowered and confident in the workplace, to see everyone place confidence in strong female leaders and promote their careers. I’d also like to have contributed in some way to improving the health and wellbeing of people, even if it is just incremental.
When you have a couple of hours free, how do you pass the time?
I mostly like to spend time with my family, especially outdoors, kicking the footy or going for a walk. I also love cooking, any excuse to be in the kitchen – I’ll take it! I find it very relaxing and satisfying. My favourite food to cook is pasta. Finally, music is my other passion in life – I was the drummer in an all-girl rock band called Lash in the early 2000’s and in a band called The Preytells from 2004-2009. Although I don’t get as much time to do this anymore, I am hoping to break out the instruments again and introduce a Hudson Institute Variety Performance for staff and students at the end of each year!
Why is funding important in science?
All of the research that I have been able to do in the past 10 years, all of my major achievements and contributions to science, are due to the generous funding I have received via philanthropy and government support. Organisations such as L’Oréal, the CASS Foundation and The Centenary Institute have provided generous support in form of travel awards, research funds and support funds to enable consistency and longevity in my research endeavours. I cannot speak highly enough of these organisations – they not only bridge the gaps that we all inevitably face in achieving government funding but they provide flexible funds that can be used for childcare or travel to conferences. This kind of support allows early career researchers to engage in and foster exciting international collaborations and present their research on an international stage. The quality of medical research in Australia is exceptional and I feel very privileged to have the support to continue my work here and help inspire the next generation of early career researchers to do the same.
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