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Pioneers: how Monkol Lek is taking on his own disease

Groundbreaking medical research by University alumnus is shaping the 21st century and beyond
Sydney Ideas kicks off its exciting new 'Pioneers' series with the incredible story of Monkol Lek. When a rare medical condition struck Monkol in his early twenties, he took matters into his own hands and is turning the tide on the disease.

Event details
Date and time: 
Monday 20 May, 6 – 7.30pm
Venue: MacLaurin Hall (located in the Quadrangle)
The University of Sydney (Camperdown/Darlington Campus)
Entry: free and open to all with online registrations essential

Monkol Lek is a trailblazer who always shows superhuman commitment to his chosen cause. From his humble beginnings in Blacktown, growing up as a Cambodian refugee, to running a research lab at Yale – one of the world's leading universities – Monkol’s story is simply extraordinary.

Faced with an uncertain future after being diagnosed with a rare muscular dystrophy, Monkol quit his job as a computer engineer and decided to retrain at the University of Sydney. He undertook a PhD in human genetics and informatics to try to understand the cause of his limb girdle muscular dystrophy. Here he also met his wife, Angela, who now collaborates with him at Yale, at the forefront of a new frontier of medical research to identify and correct faulty genes. Their findings so far have been personally life changing for Monkol and have the potential to be game changing for a number of diseases.

Monkol has been announced as one of TEDxSydney’s featured 2019 speakers. Sydney Ideas is pleased to partner with TEDxSydney to welcome our pioneering alumnus, Monkol Lek, back to the University. Join us to hear him talk about his research findings and personal tale of perseverance. His work pushes boundaries, crosses new frontiers and resonates with people around the world. 

The speakers

Monkol is an Assistant Professor of Genetics at Yale University. He leads a research group focused on researching the genetics of neuromuscular diseases and development of therapies.

He trained at the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School, developing resources and methods to improve the genetic diagnosis of rare diseases. The includes building a resource that has been accessed more than 15 million times by rare disease researchers. He still calls Australia home and owes his success and strong work ethic to being raised as a Cambodian refugee, the youngest of seven children and educated in the public schools of Blacktown in the western suburbs of Sydney.

He did his higher education at the University of New South Wales and a PhD at the University of Sydney. In his spare time, he likes to play with his dogs, complain about anything, binge watch on Netflix and play computer games.

Event information

This event is free and open to all but online registration is essential.

Simply click the 'Register now' button or follow this link.

Entry to ticket holders will be prioritised and given on a first in, best dressed basis until the room reaches capacity. If an event is full, this may result in standing room or delayed admittance until an appropriate time.

We recommend early arrival to allow time for finding the venue and securing a seat to the event. Doors open 30 minutes before the advertised start time. 

If you could not register but would like to attend, you are welcome to join a stand-by queue on the night as seats may become available due to late cancellations. Please note, this is not guaranteed so you come at risk of non-admittance.

This venue provides wheelchair access and hearing loop and hearing infrared systems.

Access requirements

If you have other access requirements or want more information, get in touch with us on 9351 2943 or email with 'Access | May 20 - Monkol' in the subject line at the earliest opportunity to allow us time to organise for any additional services in time for the event.

There will be directional signage on the day leading to the theatre. You may also refer to the map on this page. 

Public transport

To help you plan your trip, visit


The Quadrangle is roughly 20 minutes walk from Redfern station. Catch a train to Redfern station and take Lawson St up to Abercrombie St. At the roundabout, follow Codrington St up to Butlin Ave. Follow Butlin Ave through to the campus and up Eastern Ave towards the Quadrangle.


Buses to the University are readily available from Railway Square, Central Station (Broadway). Please use campus maps tool and tick the ‘State transit bus stops’ box under the ‘Amenities’ column to view all possible bus stops.

  • via Parramatta Road: Take one of these buses: 413, 436, 438, 439, 440, 461, 480, 483, m10, L38 or L39 and alight at the main gate (University Ave). Take University Ave to the Quadrangle. 
  • via City Road: Take one of these buses: 352, 370, 422, 423, 426, 428, m30, L23 or L28 and alight at the footbridge before Butlin Avenue. Cross the road or go across the bridge and take Eastern Avenue to the Quadrangle.

There is limited parking campus. Carparks available include:

  • New Law Building carpark (accessed via Barff Road or City Road)
  • Western Avenue carpark (accessed via Cardigal Lane)
  • Shepard Street carpark (accessed via Shepard Street). 

Fees are $2/hour after 3 pm to a maximum of $6 (valid until 6 am the next day). Head to the University's Parking page for more information about fees and opening hours.

Use the University Campus Maps tool to find out more details about parking and access areas: search for the 'Social Sciences Building'. 

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