WEHI is one of the top research facilities in Australia and it is in the Parkville Biotechnology precinct, a renowned hub of academia, clinic and industry. The institute puts a lot of effort and investment into translating of research to help improve patients’ lives, which was important to me.
During the WEHI Open Day, I remembered liking the student experience that WEHI provided with retreats and social events that created a supportive community.
“Once I looked at projects being offered at WEHI the CAR T project really stood out to me because I was interested in cellular therapies. I also clicked well with my lab heads during my interview as we saw the same potential in the project.”
They were very supportive of the techniques I wanted to learn and I respected the depth of knowledge they possessed.
They also had a great lab culture with time spent outside of the lab sharing good food!
There is of course the $5000 Alan W Harris Scholarship, which helps cover some of the cost of undertaking an honours degree.
CAR T cell therapy is an exciting immunotherapy that expresses a chimeric antigen receptor on human T cells. They are designed to recognise cancer targets and activate T cells to kill the cancer cells.
More specifically, I am working on a section of the receptor (the transmembrane domain) and testing whether changing the oligomeric state through this domain will retain the efficacy seen in clinical products whilst reducing toxic side effects.
“There is something beautiful about using a biological system as a treatment because it’s a living medicine!”
I am passionate about gene and cellular therapy. How amazing is it that we can utilise fundamental biology and manipulate it to cure patients that would otherwise need to spend the majority of their life in hospital? There is something beautiful about using a biological system as a treatment because it’s a living medicine!
The complexity of it means it can be manipulated in so many different ways to fulfill different functions. Of course, this means there are a lot of ethical considerations to be made as well, which is why I’m intrigued about bioethics.
Ultimately, I want to use science to help change a lot of people’s lives. I think WEHI is full of people who are driven by this goal as well. More specifically, I want to be in the midst of the rise of gene and cellular therapy, which is still pretty much in its infancy.
I tram into WEHI, have a chat with people in the division, and then go into the tissue culture room and aliquot some media to warm up. While the media warms up, I read over experimental protocols and plan when to pause and resume experiments during the day.
Usually, experiments will take the whole day, so I use the incubation times to go to student or divisional lectures at the auditorium or attend lab meetings where we troubleshoot or discuss results.
At lunch my lab gets together in the tearoom top chat and do our daily trivia quiz. In the afternoon I continue my experiments and at the end of the day, I check all my cell lines in the incubator. Some will need more media or need to be split because of overgrowth.
They are really like pets in that way, you have to nurture them. Finally, I update the Lab Archives, an electronic lab book with everything I’ve done for the day.
“My lab is exceptional at providing the resources that I needed.”
WEHI has amazing accessible training such as cryogenics, mouse training and flow cytometry.
If you want to learn any new techniques, even just out of curiosity, everyone is very encouraging. Multiple workshops are run throughout the year that welcome researchers from all levels (e.g. R coding, translational workshops and academic writing).
Everyone at WEHI is helpful and responsive. If you are unsure of something or are missing a reagent, people don’t hesitate to give you their time to explain things and offer help.
My lab is exceptional at providing the resources that I needed (textbooks, desktop computer, licences for analysis software, investment in new equipment), which all help me use my time more efficiently.
The WEHI student association runs a lot of student events that build a supportive environment. The student retreat, end of month drinks and sports clubs made us all feel like one big family.
I completed a Bachelor of Science (Biotechnology Major) focusing on genetics and stem cells. I also had a couple of laboratory placements at a mammalian bio synthetic lab at the University of Tokyo and CSIRO’s food innovation centre.
I hope to take a nice break over the summer holidays to go travelling (Honours is a rewarding, but also a fast-paced year).
I’m also thinking of trying out a role in industry for a bit to see what it’s like in comparison to research. I will consider a PhD in the future when I find another project that I’m especially passionate about.