It was a trip during her PhD at Bio21 and the University of Melbourne that Jessica Bridgford set her sights on one day moving to New York.
Seeing the incredible work on display at a conference in Lake Tahoe coupled with the beauty and unique culture of the US helped power her through the tough times during her PhD.
In early 2018, Jessica joined the Structural Biology division at WEHI as a postdoc in the laboratory of Matthew Call and Melissa Call. During her two years at WEHI, she systematically mapped all possible single point mutations in the transmembrane domain of the thrombopoietin receptor, which controls platelet production, to their effects on receptor function using deep mutational scanning.
One of her proudest achievements at WEHI was publishing a high-impact paper which appeared in the journal, Blood, with her supervisors. She said the project was highly innovative and exciting, with some very noteworthy discoveries which demonstrated the utility of the method.
“Matthew and Melissa Call were wonderful to work with,” Jessica said.
“I was so impressed by their meticulous scientific method, ability to think conceptually and attention to detail in planning and carrying out our project, in addition to their friendly and kind nature. The Structural Biology division was such a joy to be a part of as, beyond the amazing science, it was incredibly social and we had many fun times together”, said Jessica.
Jessica is now a postdoctoral fellow with Professor David Fidock at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, having moved to New York in July 2020. She said her research aims to identify and characterise novel drug targets against the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and to produce high quality inhibitors as candidates for preclinical and clinical drug development.
“To achieve this, I am using a combination of powerful techniques including P. falciparum genetic crosses using humanised mice, next-generation DNA sequencing, quantitative trait locus mapping, CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing and cryo-EM, in addition to collaborations with world-leading experts.
“What excites me the most about my research is the potential of contributing to producing an antimalarial that could be critical in the fight against malaria and its eradication. Producing the next generation of antimalarials that inhibit novel drug targets and have a low potential for resistance will be essential for ongoing malaria control and eradication”
Thanks to a mutual connection at WEHI, Jessica connected with fellow alumna Kathy Potts, who undertook her PhD at WEHI and is a postdoc at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Jessica said she was able to gain lots of helpful advice ahead of her move, and has struck up a close friendship with Kathy, who also introduced her to other WEHI alumni and ex-pats living in New York.
“What I love about living in New York is that there’s always so much going on and always so much to do – there’s so many amazing bars and restaurants to check out, you’ll never get to the end of the list, and the food is incredible, especially the Italian. You can drive upstate to the forest and stay in a cabin in the snow during winter, go the beach on a summer’s day or leaf-peeping in the fall, which is beautiful! The people here are also very diverse and you never know who you’re going to meet, including the occasional celebrity or your new best friend”.
Jessica was awarded an American-Australian Association Graduate Education Fund scholarship in 2021.