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Understanding our ‘mini energy factories’

This article featured in Illuminate Newsletter Summer ‘23
Dr Tahnee Saunders

Dr Tahnee Saunders studies mitochondria, in the hope of finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. She was recently awarded a two-year fellowship from the Parkinson’s Foundation.

When I meet someone new, I explain what I do as…  studying the little factories in all our cells that make our energy, known as mitochondria. I am working to understand the ways our body can keep our mitochondria functioning properly.  

 What I love about mitochondria… is how diverse they are. My research looks at a novel mitochondrial damage response pathway, that captures mitochondria that are about to release a damage signal that can induce inflammation. Just simply looking at the mitochondrial network down the microscope can tell you about the health of a cell.  

 I love being a scientist at WEHI because… I enjoy being surrounded by inquisitive and innovative minds. WEHI fosters an environment that facilitates creative problem solving and fosters new ideas. When everyone around you is doing amazing things, it inspires you to push the boundaries of your own research. 

 When I meet someone new, I explain what I do as…  studying our mitochondria, the little factories in all our cells that make our energy. I am working to understand the ways our body can keep our mitochondria functioning properly. My research looks at a novel mitochondrial damage response pathway, which captures mitochondria before they leak key components which induce damaging inflammation. 

 The thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is… working in a team of passionate people who are all trying to understand the most intricate mechanisms of disease. Discovery research is an arduous road, only possible when surrounded by equally committed and supportive peers. So, when you have a hard day yourself, you can celebrate someone else’s success. 

 One of the coolest things I’ve been able to do as a scientist is… foster the growth of younger scientists and see them develop. In 2022, I supervised a student in the InSPIRE program (which supports students from universities across Asia to undertake an internship with WEHI researchers). It was brilliant to see her development in the lab, in particular, her ability to come up with creative solutions to obstacles she encountered in the lab. 

The thing I’m proudest of is… receiving a fellowship from the Parkinson’s Foundation, which provides me with salary support for two years, as well as networking and professional development opportunities. I’ve had the chance to travel to Washington DC this year to meet with the other Foundation grantees.  

 I hope my team’s research will make an impact by… laying the foundations for the design of a disease-modifying treatment for patients living with Parkinson’s disease.  

 When I’m not in the lab, I like to… spend time with my friends, cooking, going for walks amongst the trees, listening to podcasts, and taking long drives around country Victoria. 

First published on 01 December 2023
This article featured in Illuminate Newsletter Summer ‘23
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Illuminate Summer 2023
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