Straight from The Heart

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Matisse Fox is a Medical Science student currently completing her honours thesis with the Molecular Cardiology Group of the Centenary Institute, University of Sydney.

My Honours thesis focuses on an inherited cardiomyopathy called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC). The prevalence of ARVC is estimated as 1 in 5000 and is one of the leading causes of arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in the young, particularly athletes.

My project has 3 facets: analysing the clinical characteristics of our patients, pursuing gene discovery on genetically unexplained ARVC families and developing a stem cell line to explore the phenotype of disease. The most exciting, hands-on part of my work is the cellular aspect. We took blood from an affected patient and reprogrammed their cells to turn them into stem cells. We are able to turn those stem cells into any type we like such as bone, skin or heart cells. Once the stem cells are differentiated into cardiomyocytes, they beat like a heart in the dish. Before starting my project, I had never read a cardiac MRI or post mortem report, assessed the pathogenicity of a variant or used an electronic pipette. Now these are everyday tasks that form the foundation for larger and more stimulating investigations.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to learn from a diverse group that includes cardiologists, genetic counsellors, post-doctoral researchers, PhD and Masters students, and have found a mentor that I look up to both professionally and personally. Though we work long hours (the majority of which I’ve spent completely confused!), we can see the translation of our research into clinical practice when we tell a family which gene caused the sudden death of their 15 year old son, or when we can release a family from lifelong disease screening. These results for our patients make everything we do worthwhile.

A Summer Researching Nanoparticles

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Lauren Minne is a Third Year Chemical Engineering/Science Student who recently completed a Summer scholarship with the school of Chemistry at the University of Sydney.

Over the summer of 2016-2017, I was involved in a supervised research project based around the synthesis of polymer nanoparticles, the like of which are currently being investigated for their use in drug delivery to tumours. This opportunity came in the form of a Summer Research Scholarship within Dr Markus Muellner’s Polymer Nanostructures group. My experience as a Summer Scholar was excellent, and offered fantastic insight into the world of scientific research.

Over the course of the project, I benefitted from academic support and guidance from my supervisor, as well as other PHD and Masters students within my research group, whilst also enjoying a level of independence in my daily lab work. I was included in decisions about the direction of the research I was undertaking, mostly in the form of constantly modified and refined experimental methods, responding to favourable (and unfavourable) results.

As a Summer Scholar, I had access to advanced analysis equipment, such as the HNMR and GPC (Gel Permeation Chromatography) technologies, allowing me to develop lab skills not generally utilised by second year chemistry students. I was also able to observe and interact with full-time researchers, and gained a better understanding of what a career in scientific research entails.

Overall, this project provided a fulfilling, productive and enjoyable way to spend a part of my summer vacation, and enabled my general lab skills and understanding of science to grow immensely.