For EJ, culturing cells in the lab while listening to music has been a form of stress relief during her medical studies. Her goal after graduating is to do a PhD in lab-based research in cancer.
Now completing her final placement in Tully, EJ will start her internship next year at Townsville University Hospital (TUH), where she’s eager to continue her research. She says Townsville, with its tertiary teaching hospital, is a place where students and junior doctors can tailor their own research pathways.
“The hospital is really quite large, and a lot of the physicians are interested in research. They're easy to approach, too,” EJ says. “I believe training up here is a great opportunity to do what you want to do, because everyone’s super supportive. Because there are not that many people who are doing research in the field currently, the hospital staff are willing to help you out every step of the way.”
Lionel says research is intrinsic to improvements in clinical practice, and the JCU lab is always looking for students.
“Studies show that if you have clinicians who are interested in research, the outcomes for their patients are better.”
Associate Professor Lionel Hebbard
“It’s in the interest of the area health service and the public themselves to have physicians who are interested in research because then they'll get better health outcomes for their society and the society will be more productive. So it's a win win.”
The JCU researchers in the discipline of molecular and cell biology work closely with TUH clinicians, sourcing human samples of hepatic tumours and using them to make primary cultures for modelling cell culture experiments. They also work with cell lines generated from mice and from human patients.
“Here in this lab, we can sort cells on the basis of certain markers, we can take blood from patients and sort them into different immune cell types,” Lionel says. “We also have really advanced microscopy, and we do a lot of genetic experiments, changing the genes and cells.”
Lionel works alongside his wife, Dr Miriam Wankell, who has a PhD in cellular and molecular biology from the ETH-Switzerland, and two PhD students: Lauren Taylor, who is working on molecules that mediate muscle growth, and Rhys Gillman, who is investigating novel genetic mechanism in liver cancer.
Rhys and the team are also supported by Associate Professors Ulf Schmitz and Matt Field, experts in the field of bioinformatics, which uses computational programming and knowledge of biology to better genetic pathways promoting liver cancer.
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