If we’re counting, it’s been six weeks since I arrived in Melbourne, Australia, and a month of working in the lab at SVI! I have shadowed almost every member of our Genome Stability/DNA Repair and Recombination lab, ran several experiments, and broken in my lab notebook. My weekends have been filled with dinners with colleagues, city exploring with fellow Fulbrighters and other new friends, good food and coffee, and I finally got around to turning in my Medicare application. Side note: how incredible is it that in this country, even a visitor like me can enroll in Medicare?! Thanks, Fulbright!
I have had a few unique opportunities outside of my lab work and keeping my tap shoes warm (and my heels blistered, thanks to my beautiful and sturdy rose gold and black Miller and Bens) recently that I wanted to share.
Yesterday, I attended the inaugural Syndromes Without A Name (SWAN) Australia conference at the Royal Children’s Hospital. SWAN is a non-profit that supports families who have a child with a rare or undiagnosed genetic condition. The conference was titles Exploring the Unknown Through Genetics and Genomics, and featured several genetic counselors, researchers, geneticists and pediatricians, as well as mothers and advocates of these children. One of the speakers commented that the expected audience for the conference was originally families in the SWAN community, and they were surprised by the turnout of professionals, too. The aim of my attendance at the conference was to learn from Jane Tiller, lawyer and genetic counselor, about the ethical implications of research and genetic testing in order to inform some of our work. I also enjoyed hearing from two mothers of children with rare diseases. One SWAN mother in particular spoke about “How Genetic Counseling Helped Me to Make Decisions,” and her journey in navigating the rare disease space. In her reflection, she shared (paraphrased):
“our children are rewriting history, contributing to the future;
they’re all mosaic– they break us apart and rearrange us more beautifully than we ever could’ve imagined;
and they’re all contagious– if you spend time around them, you’ll likely catch some ‘awesome’ just by being around them.”
It’s safe to say this mother (and the whole conference) was a bucket-filler, especially on a Saturday morning at 0900.
I also wanted to talk a little about Tuesdays. At SVI, we are lucky enough to have either an internal expert or an external visitor come speak at each of our Tuesday seminars… plus free lunch for those in attendance. Call it a win-win: feeding our brains and our stomachs in one go! Last week’s Tuesday Seminar was given by Professor Eva Dimitriadis, a National Health and Medical Research Council Senior Research Fellow, Professor in Reproductive Biology at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne and Co-Head of the Gynaecology Research Centre at the Royal Women’s Hospital [copied from the SVI promotional flier]. Eva’s talk was titled “The Role of Placental Inflammation in the Development of Pregnancy Disorders,” and she focused mostly on how inflammation contributes to placental insufficiency and preeclampsia.
I was on cloud nine to hear both the clinical and biochemical sides of her research, since this begins to explain the science behind some newborns with intrauterine (fetal) growth restriction and low birth weight– most of which end up with Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) stays. My two worlds came together in her talk, and I loved every minute of it.
In addition, her research findings, the results of which have been published in over 100 articles, found that inflammation can prevent typical development of the placenta. Since the placenta is how the baby receives blood, oxygen, and nutrients from the mother, and preeclampsia begins with the establishment of the placenta, she has found success in studying the tissues and mechanisms of placentation. Her findings have the potential to be used as novel treatment options for preeclampsia by targeting certain inflammatory cytokines like Interleukin 11 (Winship & Dimitriadis, Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 2017). It was incredible to hear her speak about her work!
Lastly, I wanted to share that I’m eager to continue working on the different projects and collaborations I have going on now that I’m a few weeks into my work. While 10-hour days in the lab are nothing compared to 12-hour nursing shifts, they sure are a similar kind of rewarding. I’m making progress on my research project to find new detection reagents for Fanconi anemia, went through orientation to join the islet (pancreas cells) isolation team for transplants and research, and continue to work an ethics application for an international FA and cancer study that bridges patient-facing and biochemical laboratory research. Of course, I can’t end this post without mentioning that my research study back home— which is exploring the effects of movement and music on newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome– is moving along well thanks to my awesome team in the NICU!
And with that, the sun is setting on this Sunday night and another week of asking the hard questions in hopes of finding answers, treatments, and cures lies ahead. I missed out on Ball State Homecoming this weekend, which was a bummer after spending this week during the past three years watching the results of our Homecoming Steering Committee planning come to life. I was reminded, however, by my awesome desk name plate– gifted by the best committee advisors– that being a Cardinal is part of why I’ve been able to fly all the way Down Under. Thanks for reading.