Meet our Researchers

The Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR), working for all health and medical researchers in Australia, through public, political and scientific advocacy

Meet our Researchers

Dr Iman Azimi

Dr Iman Azimi – Pharmaceutical Science, University of Tasmania.

Medulloblastoma is the most common fatal childhood brain cancer, with less than 60% of children surviving high-risk medulloblastoma. Current treatment options are not completely effective and include surgery, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Furthermore, due to the harsh nature of these treatments, children who do survive the cancer often develop physical, cognitive, social and emotional impairments. New treatments with fewer side effects are urgently needed.

“Can we find a treatment approach that is more effective and shows less side effects?”. This is the main research question that Dr Iman Azimi is eager to address. In order to achieve this, Iman considers that “we first need to understand the biology of this devastating disease”.

 

Iman is a cancer biologist and a lecturer in Pharmaceutical Science at the University of Tasmania, and together with his research team, he is searching for potential new therapies for medulloblastoma treatment. He investigates the biology of medulloblastoma to understand the role of specific proteins that contribute to cancer progression and is exploring the potential of these proteins to treat cancer.

 

His team utilises diverse experimental techniques to identify proteins and cellular pathways that are critical for cancer growth and invasiveness. They then control the activity of these proteins and pathways to examine whether they suppress cancer progression and/or are able to enhance the effectiveness of therapeutic agents currently used in clinic. Iman and his team have already identified potential new drug targets for these high-risk cancers, which may ultimately improve treatment options and save the lives of children suffering from this disease.

 

Iman joined the University of Tasmania in 2018 to establish his laboratory within the College of Health and Medicine. “We have created a cohesive and supportive team environment with transparency and strong work ethics. Constructive discussions, brainstorming and innovative ideas are always welcome in our meetings. It is an amazing feeling to see students excited about research and to see them grow and develop in the lab”.

 

Iman has published several impactful papers in prestigious scientific journals. He has also achieved several national and international awards including ASCEPT Denis Wade New Investigator Award, Oxygen Club of California award, Tony B Academic Award, and British Pharmacological Society Bain Memorial Award.

 

For media enquiries or information about potential Honours or PhD projects contact ASMR for details.

 

Email: iman.azimi@utas.edu.au

 

Phone: 03 6226 1747

 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ImanAzimiUTAS

 

Drafted by Sylvia Vicenzi

Edited by Lila Landowski

Profile Dr Iman Azimi April 2020

 

 

Dr Jenna Ziebell

Dr Jenna Ziebell – Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, University of Tasmania

The brain is comprised of delicate neuronal networks which allow communication of thoughts and movement. As we age, there are changes to the brain that disrupt these networks. Why and how these changes occur remains a mystery; however, one factor that may be driving these changes is inflammation.

Most inflammation in the brain is regulated by a cell type called microglia. Microglia are small cells which provide support for the neuronal networks. As we age, changes happen in both neurons and microglia. “Does one cause the other, or does it happen in unison?” This is one research question Dr. Jenna Ziebell hopes to answer.

Jenna is a Lecturer at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, at the University of Tasmania. Her research focuses on how microglia may contribute to diseases of the brain. We know that traumatic brain injury increases a person’s risk of dementia. Are changes in microglia responsible for that increased risk?

Currently Dr Ziebell and her team want to know whether the response microglia have to brain injury differs with age and sex, and whether the structure of the neuron can alter the way microglia responds to injury.

“These are important questions to ask as we are yet to determine why some people with brain injury go on to develop other chronic neurological diseases. We know microglia respond differently between males and females, which may help explain why less males develop Alzheimer’s disease [the most common form of dementia]”

Jenna enjoys seeing her students flourish in the lab. “I love how the next generation of scientists respond when they see for the first time that they have the capacity to design and conduct great science. Our procedures are technically challenging and often take months to perfect, but the look on a student’s face when they see that they have been able to replicate experiments and the confidence that builds in our team is something that I will never tire of.”

Honours projects (which could potentially lead to PhD opportunities) are available with Jenna, contact her for details at jenna.ziebell@utas.edu.au

Media contact OK – 0478 133 595 or (03) 6226 4705.

Social media handles:

Instagram:

Twitter: @ziebs83

Other:

Written by Lila Landowski

Researcher Profile Dr Jenna Ziebell April 2020

 

A/Prof Christoph Hagemeyer

Associate Professor Christoph Hagemeyer profile

The second leading cause of death worldwide is stroke. Most strokes happen when a blood clot forms and blocks a blood vessel in the brain. Doctors currently use specific therapies that bust open and dissolve the clot, allowing blood flow to be returned to the brain, and hopefully, allowing the person to recover. However, such therapies are associated with severe, sometimes life-threatening adverse bleeding complications. A/Prof Christoph Hagemeyer’s research uses nanotechnology to improve how well this medicine works, while reducing the risk of any side effects.

 

Christoph is our current ASMR President. As a nanotechnology expert and protein biochemist, he has a number of patented discoveries under his belt, which spans across stroke therapies, to improving diagnostic imaging and targeted drug delivery. “The overall goal of our research program is to provide highly specific and targeted therapies to patients that will benefit most. This can be achieved with coupling drugs and diagnostic agents to recombinant antibodies to bring the payload only to the intended area in vivo”.

 

“After a PhD in fundamental neuroscience research I was interested to work on projects that have high translational potential so my focus shifted to drug delivery and diagnostic molecular imaging”.

 

Working at the interface between biology and chemistry has always been something that excites Christoph. “To drive projects that utilitises the skills and talent of researchers with very diverse backgrounds (engineering, material science, biology, medicine and chemistry) is challenging and highly rewarding at the same time”.

 

Originally completing his PhD in Germany, Christoph was based at a number of prestigious institutes in Europe and Australia (including the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute), before taking his current position as research lead in the NanoBiotechnology Group at the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases (Monash University).

 

“With a training background in Chemistry and several postdoctoral years in medical research, I often find myself in the role of an interpreter between the various disciplines working towards the common goal of improving outcomes for patients with the most serious diseases”.

Profile Associate Professor Christoph Hagemeyer April 2020

Alice Saul

Profile Alice Saul

Alice Saul – Multiple Sclerosis Research Flagship Team, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania

Many people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) modify their diet in hopes of changing the course of the disease, but there is limited evidence that changing diet can have an effect on MS. Alice Saul is examining the role of diet in MS progression as part of her doctorate at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania.

Alice is using data from the AusLong study – a cohort of people with MS who had a first clinical diagnosis of demyelination and have been followed annually for 10 years. Demyelination is a flare up of the condition, and it occurs when the protective insulation around neurons – called myelin – begins to degenerate. She will examine whether diet quality and inflammation are associated with relapses, disability progression, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and signs of demyelination on brain scans.

“This is an important area of research as this knowledge will be used to provide dietary advice to people with MS and to design diets that could be tested in intervention studies.”

Alice enjoys her role at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research. “I was inspired to get involved in MS research as I have experienced firsthand the impact that MS can have on individuals and their families. I understand the challenges that MS presents, and I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of others by tackling these problems.”

Alice has published and presented her previous work in international journals and conferences. Alice was the sole winner of the Golden Key’s 2018 Asia Pacific Postgraduate Study Award and was awarded an MS Research Australia Postgraduate Scholarship (2019), one of only three scholarships awarded nationally. Alice is also an entrepreneur and produced an iPhone app and founded a successful alpaca and sheep wool business.

Social media handles: LinkedIn.

Collaborations on research projects are available with Alice, contact her for details at alice.saul@utas.edu.au or via LinkedIn.

Media contact OK – alice.saul@utas.edu.au or directly via LinkedIn.

Social media handles: LinkedIn.

Profile Alice Saul April 2020

Prof Vera Ignjatovic

Researcher Profile – Vera Ignjatovic

Meet Vera, the medical researcher and former olympian

 

Blood clots are useful – they help us stop bleeding when we have an injury.  However, the formation of blood clots within our blood stream (thrombosis) can have disastrous consequences – including death. Children in hospital are much more likely to have thrombosis occur than healthy children are. Childhood thrombosis has been described as the “new epidemic” in hospitals; venous thromboses in children are associated with a 3% mortality rate, and survivors may experience significant long-term side effects. Considering that children have long lives ahead of them, there is an enormous social and economic cost of thrombosis in our community.

 

Vera’s research focuses on understanding the blood clotting system of children and how it is different from adults. Her team has found that many of the proteins involved in the balance of blood clotting vary in babies in children, compared to adults – even the structure of a blood clot has differences.

 

This research is critically important because the anti-thrombotic drugs that exist are initially designed for adults. The work of Vera’s research team ultimately establishes if and how they may work in children.

 

“By understanding and establishing paediatric specific norms for blood tests, my research provides the basis for accurate diagnosis of bleeding and clotting phenotypes in children.”

 

Vera’s research team leads the world in this area of research, and some of their findings have changed clinical practice both nationally and internationally.

 

 

​​“Our research is only possible due to a wonderful team of researchers that are a part of my team, as well as significant contributions from national and international collaborators.”

 

 

Vera feels her love of research is encompassed by the following quote from inventor Nikola Tesla: “The history of science shows that theories are perishable. With every new truth that is revealed, we get a better understanding of nature and our conceptions and views are modified.” Her job is based on revealing truths to improve current clinical practice and improve the outcomes for children who are unwell.

 

Before Vera started her career as a medical researcher, she was an elite athlete and represented Australia at the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney. “I was a goalkeeper in the Australian Handball Team and got to walk out into the Olympic stadium at the opening ceremony.” The opening ceremony captured the attention of hundreds of millions of people around the world on TV.

 

Living with the motto of “everything should be tried once,” Vera has also obtained a skydiving license.

Profile Vera Ignjatovic April 2020

Kevin Hendrawan

Kevin Hendrawan, PhD Candidate

Area of research:

Researcher affiliation/s: St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research (AMR), The University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Meet Kevin Hendrawan, the PhD Student from the @SVH_BSCCR lab at St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research, @UNSW, the researcher helping us understand how people with #multiplesclerosis can benefit from stem cell transplantation.

Profile:

While our immune system is important for eliminating harmful foreign molecules and/or pathogens (like the virus causing COVID-19), it is equally important that it does not attack our own cells and organs (which is what occurs in autoimmune diseases). This delicate balance is, in part, maintained by immune-suppressive cells known as T regulatory cells (Tregs).

Kevin Hendrawan is a PhD Candidate on an NHMRC Public health and health services research scholarship, at St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research (AMR), The University of New South Wales, Sydney, who is helping us understand how people with  multiple sclerosis may benefit from stem cell transplantation.

“As a researcher, I’m primarily driven by my curiosity for the immune system, which we now know is connected to many aspects of our health, including cancer biology and even mental health.”

Autologous Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (AHSCT) is a treatment that is currently under clinical trial for aggressive forms of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. AHSCT involves taking a bone marrow sample from the patient, then killing off the patient’s existing immune system with high-dose chemotherapy, and repopulating it with stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow sample. It is thought that AHSCT is effective because it “re-boots” the immune system.

When AHCST is performed in mouse models of autoimmune disease, we know that the new Tregs that appear after the transplant are more suppressive in their roles, suggesting that they reduce symptoms of disease by dampening down the autoreactive immune response after transplantation. Kevin works with human samples to see whether this also happens in humans.

“This is important as [Tregs] are a possible candidate for future cell therapy which could reduce the need for high dose chemotherapy, which is not ideal for patients due to the side-effects associated with its toxicity.”

Kevin’s keen interest in understanding immune regulation was highlighted during his honours project during which he investigated the immunology of pregnancy in live-bearing pregnant lizards! He’s also a keen runner (5 – 10 k) and practices one of the oldest surviving Japanese martial arts: Katori Shinto Ryu (Japanese swordmanship).

But that’s not all! Kevin is also keen science communicator. Have a look at this video he directed for an @MSResearchAust competition – it’s about how his lab @SVH_BSCCR is “Leaving MS behind” 👏

www.youtube.com/watch?v=97zMtjoNqFY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97zMtjoNqFY Directed by Kevin. Made for MSRA. “The other researchers in this video are my supervisor A/Prof John Moore, my colleagues Dr Jennifer Massey, Dr Malini Visweswaran, with former colleague Dr Hojabr Kakavand, and former undergraduate medical student doing research in our lab Mr Arun Shrestha.”

May 2020

Dr Shelley Gorman

 

Researcher name: Dr Shelley Gorman

Area of research: Cardiometabolic, environmental exposure, solar radiation, vitamin D

Researcher affiliation/s: Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia

 

Meet the researcher investigating how sun exposure may improve the well-being of people who are overweight or diabetic.

Over one quarter of Australian children are obese or overweight. What can we learn from science to reduce this alarming statistic? Modifiable lifestyle factors such as exercise have the potential to improve the wellbeing of many overweight or obese children and adults – but something as simple as sun exposure may be an equally accessible, equitable, and inexpensive tool.

Dr Shelley Gorman is a Group Leader at the Telethon Kids Institute and an adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, where she is investigating the effects of sun exposure on our health. Shelley’s Cardiometabolic Sunhealth team has identified that ongoing exposure to safe levels of sunlight could be used to treat or even prevent the developmental obesity and associated cardiometabolic disorders like type-2 diabetes.

“Our findings in experimental animals suggest that regular exposure to low (non-burning) doses of UV light reduces weight gain, and signs of type-2 diabetes. We have discovered that many of the benefits of UV occur following the release of nitric oxide from exposed skin.”

Obesity and diabetes are national health priorities and the Cardiometabolic Sunhealth team are a dedicated team working to reduce the health and economic burden of these diseases.

“Research allows us to explore, be curious, and discover ways to improve the lives of others.”

Outside of medical research, Shelley has two young daughters and loves playing the piano and being in the outdoors. She rides an eBike to work, loves running and says, “I have been trying – with mixed success – to propagate vegies that germinate in my fridge and pantry”. Something I think many of us can relate to in these times!

Shelley is accepting both future Honours and PhD research students to expand Australian medical research into UV light. “We’re looking for new students to help us find out whether these benefits of UV light also occur in people, and to develop new ways of translating our findings in the community.”

If you’d like to hear more about Shelley’s work, check out this talk she gave at a Diabetes WA Outreach event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIjPo0cOesc, and this one she gave for the Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=3211947022149821 (fast forward to half way in)

Research Gate Profile: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Shelley_Gorman

LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shelley-gormana3372638/?originalSubdomain=au .

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIjPo0cOesc for a talk Shelley gave at a Diabetes WA Outreach event.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=3211947022149821 – Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology

Dr Shelley Gorman profile 25/5/2020

Researcher name: Dr Shelley Gorman

Area of research: Cardiometabolic, environmental exposure, solar radiation, vitamin D

Researcher affiliation/s: Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia

 

Meet the researcher investigating how sun exposure may improve the well-being of people who are overweight or diabetic.

Over one quarter of Australian children are obese or overweight. What can we learn from science to reduce this alarming statistic? Modifiable lifestyle factors such as exercise have the potential to improve the wellbeing of many overweight or obese children and adults – but something as simple as sun exposure may be an equally accessible, equitable, and inexpensive tool.

Dr Shelley Gorman is a Group Leader at the Telethon Kids Institute and an adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, where she is investigating the effects of sun exposure on our health. Shelley’s Cardiometabolic Sunhealth team has identified that ongoing exposure to safe levels of sunlight could be used to treat or even prevent the developmental obesity and associated cardiometabolic disorders like type-2 diabetes.

“Our findings in experimental animals suggest that regular exposure to low (non-burning) doses of UV light reduces weight gain, and signs of type-2 diabetes. We have discovered that many of the benefits of UV occur following the release of nitric oxide from exposed skin.”

Obesity and diabetes are national health priorities and the Cardiometabolic Sunhealth team are a dedicated team working to reduce the health and economic burden of these diseases.

“Research allows us to explore, be curious, and discover ways to improve the lives of others.”

Outside of medical research, Shelley has two young daughters and loves playing the piano and being in the outdoors. She rides an eBike to work, loves running and says, “I have been trying – with mixed success – to propagate vegies that germinate in my fridge and pantry”. Something I think many of us can relate to in these times!

Shelley is accepting both future Honours and PhD research students to expand Australian medical research into UV light. “We’re looking for new students to help us find out whether these benefits of UV light also occur in people, and to develop new ways of translating our findings in the community.”

If you’d like to hear more about Shelley’s work, check out this talk she gave at a Diabetes WA Outreach event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIjPo0cOesc, and this one she gave for the Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=3211947022149821 (fast forward to half way in)

Research Gate Profile: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Shelley_Gorman

LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shelley-gormana3372638/?originalSubdomain=au .

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIjPo0cOesc for a talk Shelley gave at a Diabetes WA Outreach event.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=3211947022149821 – Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology

Dr Shelley Gorman profile 25/5/2020

Dr Chantal Attard

Researcher Profile

Researcher name and title: Chantal Attard Bsc (Hons), PhD, Senior Research Officer;

Area of research: Haematology Research

Researcher affiliation/s: Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Victorian State Convenor 2019 | Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR)

 Meet Dr Chantal Attard from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the researcher whose efforts have a direct impact on the lives of children living with complex heart disease.

The coagulation system prevents the body from bleeding after injury, but what you might not know is this system continuously develops with age. This means children are different from adults in terms of their blood clotting and bleeding risk and how they react blood-thinning medications. “How can we protect our most vulnerable children?” This is the research aspiration that Chantal pursues in her daily life.

Chantal is a Senior Research Officer at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute where she has investigated the impact that common anti-clot drugs have on the life of children with complex heart disease. These patients are often prescribed life-long medications as they have an increased risk of having blood clots and stroke.

“I am excited about the direct translational impact that my research has for patients and their families.” This is where Chantal finds her motivation, while investigating how patients, with only half a functioning heart, are responding to medications such as warfarin and aspirin. She found that stroke rates were similar for children receiving either warfarin or aspirin however bone health was poorer in patients prescribed warfarin. Given that warfarin is a difficult medication to manage, particularly in children, her findings have broad implications for both patient health and cost for the healthcare system.

“I love that my research spans across clinical and laboratory research which allows me to work with people of really diverse research experience. I am passionate about nurturing strong and independent thinkers”

Chantal is also a really proud mother of two young girls, Allegra who just started reading and Francesca who is incredibly chatty at the age of 2!

Given the urgency if the COVID19 crisis, Chantal and the MCRI Haematology Research team have taken a detour from their usual research. Chantal’s message to the world: “Given the urgent and devastating effects of COVID19 across the globe, our research team has joined forces with leading experts to fight against COVID19. We are interested to know why children are less effected by the disease. We hope to identify an effective treatment until we have a successful vaccine for COVID19.  “

https://www.mcri.edu.au/users/chantal-attard

Researcher profile, Dr Chantal Attard 24th May 2020