Maria Petraki

Maria Petraki

Degree

PhD student

Area of study

Leader Cells in Ovarian Cancer

Year of enrolment

2019

Why did you choose Hudson Institute and your research group?

When I was in the third year of my Bachelor’s degree at Monash University, I undertook a research unit at Hudson Institute examining stem cell treatments for cerebral palsy and I absolutely fell in love with medical research. I soon discovered that students at Hudson Institute have so many opportunities for hands-on research, networking, travelling and being supported by world-known researchers, clinicians and scientists. Hudson Institute is located at the Monash Health Translational Precinct which is connected with Monash Health in Clayton via a link bridge, highlighting the close connection between researchers and clinical collaborators in the hospital. I completed my Honours degree in 2019 at Hudson Institute and I was inspired to continue my passion for research by doing a PhD. I chose the Ovarian Cancer Biomarkers research group as I specifically expressed a strong interest in cancer research, acquired chemo-resistance and women’s health.

What is your research about and what do you hope to achieve?

Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynaecological cancer. There is currently no early detection test for ovarian cancer and as a result most women are diagnosed when it is too late. Additionally there is a lack of effective treatments available that promote survival in the long term. The focus of my research is to target a small population of ovarian cancer ‘stem-like’ cells called ‘Leader Cells’ which thrive in chemotherapy. Leader cells are thought to contribute to the progression and metastasis of ovarian cancer, and are required for invasion of ovarian cancer cells into healthy tissue. My PhD focuses on defining the molecular nature of these cells and identifying treatments that promote their ablation in order to prevent disease relapse. I hope that my research will contribute to our understanding of leader cells in ovarian cancer and will ultimately lead to identifying and applying more effective treatments in the clinic, so that women with ovarian cancer can live disease free.

What is it like being a student at Hudson Institute?

Hudson Institute is a world-renowned research and translational facility where students can put their research into context. It is incredible to have the opportunity to interact daily with clinicians, scientists, supervisors and discuss your research as well as being on top of clinical trial news. I feel particularly privileged to be involved in the comprehensive sample collection and bio-banking program which provides scientists with patient samples for research. Life at Hudson Institute is challenging but incredible, and has given me the opportunity to think critically and always try to improve my research skills. As a student, you are constantly exposed to new techniques and information and not a day passes without learning something exciting and useful. I feel very lucky to be part of such a prestigious and supportive environment.

How will your research help others?

Ovarian cancer is often termed as the ‘silent killer’ and in Australia, one woman dies every 8 hours from this insidious disease. It is a common misconception that ovarian cancer can be diagnosed with a pap smear. In fact, there is no early detection test which often means that women are diagnosed at a very advanced stage and when it is too late. The only way to accurately diagnose ovarian cancer is through invasive surgery. Ovarian cancer is highly invasive and there is a 90% chance of recurrence. The picture of ovarian cancer is dismal and has not changed in the last thirty years. There is an overdue need for innovative research that will help develop an accurate non-invasive early detection test and provide effective treatments so that women do not experience disease relapse in the long term. I hope my research will help improve the lives of women with ovarian cancer, because every woman should have the opportunity to live without this horrible disease.