Student in focus

Chen (Ashley) Yang, PhD Candidate

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After graduating with honours, I worked as research assistant in Children Cancer Institute Australia for two years, where I gained techniques and experience that paved my way to a PhD, with an RTP (international) scholarship. I am currently working on a novel project on skin and photo-protection, through investigating the role of calcium sensing receptor.

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, such that 2 in 3 of the population will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the age of 70. By manipulating the calcium sensing receptor with its modulators, my research has revealed biological benefits on skin of exposure to UVR, in vivo and in vitro. This result enhances our understanding of mechanisms that can mitigate the harmful effects of UVR and potentially may contribute to the developing of better sunscreens and other therapeutics for photo-protection. During my candidature, I have had opportunities to present my work internationally (at the 17th European Society for Photobiology Congress), nationally at the Molecular & Experimental Pathology Society of Australasia (MEPSA) and on campus at the Bosch Young Investigators’ Annual Symposium.

With support from Professor Rebecca Mason, I have found a balance between taking care of my young child and studying at same time. In addition to my research and family, I enjoy swimming, travel or just playing with Lego with my child, or doing puzzles quietly at home.

Patrick James Benson, PhD Candidate

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I am an honours student undertaking my research under the supervision of Dr Daniel Johnstone in search of more effective neuroprotective treatment regimes. In the context of an ageing population, there is a pertinent need for more effective therapies to combat the rising prevalence of neurodegenerative disorders.

My research this year involves investigating a novel treatment of growing potential for neurodegeneration, known as photobiomodulation. Photobiomodulation is the irradiation of tissues with red to near infrared wavelengths of light shown previously in a range of neurodegenerative contexts to induce tissue repair, decrease inflammation and alleviate pain. The mechanism underpinning how photobiomodulation confers this tissue-protective effect however, remains largely unknown. Thus, my specific focus this year is to unveil the molecular pathways being activated by photobiomodulation in cells, over a period of time. This research will hopefully shed some light on the mechanisms underpinning a treatment of proven efficacy and growing potential in a range of neurodegenerative disease states and further facilitate its translation into clinical trials.

Undertaking this research, as part of such an amazing team and investigating a treatment with the potential to make a real positive difference for a large portion of the global population is extremely exciting and an immense privilege. Furthermore, working as a support worker for people with various neurological disabilities provides me personally, with further motivation in this line of research.

Outside of my studies I enjoy playing rugby and touch football and spending quality time with family and friends.

Miranda Mathews, PhD Candidate

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I am currently a PhD student investigating the central nervous system control of our peripheral vestibular activity in the Sensory Systems and Integration laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Aaron Camp. Our sense of balance is fundamental to our ability to interact with the environment and despite this we know remarkably little about how the balance, or vestibular system works. This is unfortunate because changes in our balance are a significant risk factor in falls – the leading cause of death from injury in Australians over 65.

Specifically, my research investigates the underlying physiological mechanisms of the efferent vestibular system. Electrical activation of the efferent system has substantial effects on vestibular sensation, but how and when this system is activated under normal physiological conditions remains speculative.

I have always been fascinated by how the brain works and my love of sports and the outdoors lead me to investigate our brain’s balance system. I have also always dreamed of entering the medical field as a physician. Ultimately, I hope to merge these two interests and help narrow the gap of science and medicine.

Outside of my studies, I enjoy the outdoors, playing a variety of sports, and going on adventures with the company of my family and friends.

Amy Li, PhD Candidate

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My research is primarily concerned with the mechanisms by which genetic mutations in Myosin Binding Protein C, a contractile protein, causes heart failure. Myosin binding protein C is involved in about half of all cases of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with over 300 mutations identified so far.

My research strongly implicates this gene as a key regulator of normal cardiac function. It modulates both the force and speed of contraction and relaxation under a range of conditions, analogous to the break and accelerator of a car. However, we still do not understand the molecular basis of its actions, and this inhibits the development of potential therapies.

During my PhD with Prof. Cris dos Remedios in the Discipline of Anatomy, I was provided with the opportunity to acquire new techniques at the University of North Texas (Dr. J Borejdo), University of California San Francisco (Dr. R Cooke), and the University of Vermont (Dr. D Warshaw). As a consequence, in July 2015, I will begin training as a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Warshaw’s laboratory where I will learn single molecule techniques that should answer some of the above questions.

My ultimate goal is to find a balance between research, teaching human anatomy, and a healthy lifestyle. I enjoy running, catching up on the latest novels, good coffee, and tasting new wines and beers. I believe it is important to find a balance between research and life.

Jia Hao Yeo, PhD Candidate

Jia Hao Yeo

Since graduating with a Diploma and training in Laboratory Medical Sciences, in Singapore, I wanted to learn flow cytometry. When I started my studies at the University of Sydney (in the second year of my Science degree), I contact Dr Stuart Fraser and was accepted as a volunteer student in his lab. I enjoyed the research work I carried out with Dr Fraser and was glad to be accepted in his laboratory first as an Honours student and now as a PhD candidate.

The purpose of my research was to investigate between Erythroblastic Islands (EBI) and marophages results in the formation of mature red blood cells (RBC). Using fluorescent marker to determine DNA/RNA content (DRAQ5) and fluorescent antibodies against a variety of cellular epitopes, I developed a novel flow cytometric method to characterize and separate erythroid populations. I was also able to identify novel adhesions regulators of EBI and blood development.

In my downtime, I enjoy relaxing and catching up on sleep. I also enjoy trying new cooking recipes.

Bianca McCarthy, PhD Candidate

Bianca McCarthy

Leaving the glitz and glamour of the beauty and personal care industry and swapping it for university life was not a decision taken lightly. After all, I had spent the past few years traveling domestically and internationally working with many well-known brands to conceptualise new skin and hair care ranges, formulate prototypes, and oversee the manufacture. However, coming across the work of Professor Rebecca Mason and Dr Katie Dixon of the University of Sydney’s School of Medical Sciences spoke to me because of my personal interest in sun care, especially within the context of formulation chemistry. Their research examines the role of Vitamin D and related compounds in protecting the skin from UV radiation. There is strong evidence to suggest that the biologically active steroid hormone, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D protects skin cells following UV exposure. To what extent and through which mechanisms are still yet to be fully elucidated; this is what we will be working towards.

I haven't been able to let go of my passion entirely and I currently sit on various committees through the Australian Society of Cosmetic Chemists and work at IMCD, a global distributor of specialty personal care raw materials. My goal is to combine the knowledge from our group and collaborators with the skills I have learnt from industry to improve overall health and well-being.

Runsen (Vincent) Jin, PhD Candidate

Runsen (Vincent) Jin

I am an international exchange PhD student from Shanghai Jiaotong University China, currently working in the Department of Pathology and Bosch Institute, under the supervision of Professor Des R. Richardson. My research focuses on the function and mechanisms of the iron-regulated metastasis suppressor NDRG1 in tumor progression and metastasis.

As we all know, cancer remains a formidable health burden throughout the world. However, the results of current treatments are not very satisfactory, especially for late-stage patients. Our study has showed that the iron-regulated metastasis suppressor NDRG1 inhibits the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) that plays a key role in metastasis, as well as the TGF-beta and Wnt/beta-catenin pathways. Elucidating the molecular mechanisms that underlie the anti-metastatic effects of NDRG1 may lead to the development of new therapies to inhibit cancer metastasis.

I have always been interested in medicine and fascinated by the body and how it works. Our medical research about cancers will definitely help people to fight against the disease. I strongly believe that we would conquer all cancers someday!

In my spare time, I love swimming, listening to classical music, surfing on the Internet and doing outdoor activities with friends. It’s great to enjoy the beautiful sunshine in Sydney.

Sivaraman Purushothuman, PhD Candidate

Siva Purushothuman

My topic of interest lies in neuroprotection in age-related degenerative diseases affecting the central nervous system (CNS). Currently, there is no viable and safe treatment for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. We are currently trialling two neuroprotectants- dietary saffron and photobiomodulation (near-infra red light) to tackle the core of the degenerative process in these diseases which is understood to be blood capillary breakdown and oxidative stress. Early studies in mouse models show promising results.

While helping out in aged care homes I realised how fortunate I was. That is when I then decided that I wanted to make a difference in the field of gerontology. I believe I can use my passion in medical research where it really matters the most.

I love the outdoors and sports. So when I am not in the lab, I would be most probably bushwalking and camping or having fun at the football fields. Sydney has the perfect blend of everything.