I was fortunate enough to have Dr Catia Pierotti, who did her Honours and PhD at WEHI, as a mentor throughout high school and my undergraduate degree. She introduced me to biomedical research and encouraged me to pursue my Honours degree at WEHI.
During my third year at The University of Melbourne, I successfully applied for a science internship, and was lucky to be placed in Professor Alan Cowman’s lab. Through this internship I also had the opportunity to meet WEHI program manager Dr Julie Healer, who was inspiring. Intrigued by the malaria research that Julie was working on, I was eager to come back for Honours.
In order to develop new vaccines and drugs against malaria, the Cowman lab aims to better understand how Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria, invades red blood cells. I was looking into the function of two novel and essential parasite proteins, PTRAMP and CSS, and whether or not parasites could be inhibited from invading red blood cells by targeting these proteins with specific antibodies or nanobodies.
I found that we could stop parasite invasion with PTRAMP or CSS specific antibodies. This gives hope that PTRAMP-CSS could be a potential malaria vaccine in the future.
I am passionate about equality and using science to improve health outcomes of the disadvantaged across the world. I would love to be involved in any treatment or vaccine that achieves a reduction in the mortality and morbidity of infectious diseases. I find parasitology fascinating, and malaria in particular, as these parasites are so small, but are able to invade so many different cell types in its lifecycle. It makes researching the parasite challenging, but worth it!
“I am passionate about equality and using science to improve health outcomes of the disadvantaged across the world.”
No two days are the same in the lab, which is why I enjoy working in science. Some days will find me culturing and analysing parasites on the flow cytometer, and other days I’ll be expressing and purifying proteins from bacteria or insect cells. I’ve learned a range of techniques such as X-ray crystallography, molecular biology, microscopy and flow cytometry.
I had amazingly supportive supervisors, Dr Stephen Scally and Dr Julie Healer, who patiently and enthusiastically were always there for me. Everyone at WEHI is part of one team, willing to help one another which creates a very collaborative and supportive environment.
“No two days are the same in the lab, which is why I enjoy working in science.”
I was fortunate to use the research facilities that WEHI has to offer such as the Centre of Dynamic Imaging, the Octet machine down at WEHI’s Biotechnology Centre in Bundoora and The Australian Synchrotron in Clayton which helped us solve some crystal structures! We also collaborated with the Centre for Biologic Therapies to generate nanobodies that were essential for my project. I was supported by two scholarships – the Alan Harris Scholarship and the Strathmore Community Bank Honours Scholarship for WEHI students.
I was extremely happy and surprised to win a Colman Speed Honours Award, as I had spent the year with all my hard-working peers. We were all proud of everyone’s achievements. Honours is a tough year, but extremely rewarding.