I had heard that teams at WEHI are very collaborative and that the latest technologies are quite accessible.
After speaking with my potential supervisors, I knew I’d be part of a supportive team with vast areas of expertise. This would enable me to shape my Honours work into a project that peaked my interests, allowing freedoms and curiosities to build whilst being offered guidance for experiment design and execution.
I saw this as essential for building a strong foundation for me as a young researcher.
Diffuse Midline Glioma (DMG) is a fatal paediatric brain cancer that currently lacks life-saving therapies. Associate Professor Misty Jenkins’ lab has expertise in T cell biology and immunotherapy development.
My Honours project involves validating the expression of a protein in DMG cell lines, designing novel Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cells against this protein and testing whether these CAR T cells can specifically kill tumour cells.
CAR T cells are genetically altered T cells that are made to express a synthetic receptor, which upon binding to a specific target cell can drive targeted cell killing. In this way, the project is an early characterisation of a potential immunotherapy for DMG.
“People across the institute are very approachable and willing to provide their opinions and expertise to assist my project.”
I am intrigued by the ways existing biological components are being engineered and modified to create new therapies; in particular, to treat cancers that currently have poor survival rates or relapse with resistance to established treatments.
Over time, I hope to develop expertise in synthetic receptor design and play a key role in the validation and translation of novel immunotherapies into clinical trials. I want to explore the biology of these synthetic receptors and help define models explaining why some work and some don’t.
My days in the lab can range from screening cells for my protein of interest, genetically altering T cells to express the CAR and validating its expression or even working with primary human tissues.
At the desk, I’ll likely be analysing the data I’ve generated and using it to inform decisions for the next experiment; or sometimes, reading through literature related to my project.
In between all of this, I relax by attending fun student events with plenty of food and drinks. I also enjoy brief table tennis sessions at work, which sometimes can become not so brief!
Early on, I found out that people across the institute are very approachable and willing to provide their opinions and expertise to assist my project. I have found the research facilities are cared for at a high standard and there is excellent training across the institute.
The facilities are also very accessible, which has helped me to keep progressing my project. The team in the Jenkins lab have been amazingly flexible, providing supervision with short notice and training me up to work independently.
Before Honours, I completed a Bachelors in Biomedicine from The University of Melbourne. I completed my final year studying human physiology and immunology, and had the unique opportunity to explore these interests in the context of semester-long research projects. These experiences helped me realise that being involved in medical research was something important for me and led me to WEHI.
I intend to continue investigating novel immunotherapy validation and T cell biology in the Jenkins lab through a PhD.
After that, I would like to explore the field of cancer immunotherapy overseas.
Whatever and wherever that experience is, I’m sure the skills I bring will be built on the foundation being created at WEHI.