PhD Top-Up Scholarship Recipient: Julia Suurbach

29 November 2013
Photograph of Julia Suurbach

A TCRN top-up scholarship is currently giving UTS research student Julia Suurbach some breathing room to complete her PhD. Suurbach, who is due to complete her studies in early 2014, is researching a novel treatment for prostate cancer using bone-marrow- derived mesenchymal stem cells to deliver a therapeutic gene that targets the cancer.

“Stem cells have been shown to migrate to sites of injury, including cancer, anywhere in the body. We’re utilising that feature of those cells for our therapy,” she says.

“The scholarship gives me the opportunity to cut down on teaching, which will be very helpful now that I’m in the final stage of my PhD. I’m trying to finish up my lab work by January and then I just want to focus on writing. I’m almost there!” she says.

As well as receiving funding support from the TCRN, Suurbach says she has also gained access to a range of TCRN-led PhD student workshops and lectures that bridge the gap between lab- and hospital-based research. To date, she has attended a neuropathology lecture and a workshop on statistics and research methodologies, and is keen to continue building her expertise by engaging with further TCRN activities.

She says having greater access to the hospital and hearing talks from clinical staff has helped her to see research in an entirely new context outside the lab.

“I’ve never really had any interaction with doctors, but I would like to work in a research area in a hospital myself,” she says.

“You know, I am far away from the patient right now, because I’m at the university, so I hope that in future I’ll be a bit closer to the patient, undertaking research that is even more applied.”

To date, Suurbach says that her research outcomes are showing exciting levels of success, with potential for the treatment to be adapted to fight other types of cancer as well.

“That’s the beauty of our therapy – we use stem cells and they migrate to any site of inflammation or injury within the body, so you could really use it for other cancer models, not only for prostate cancer,” she says.

“I hope this will go into clinical trials; the moment it’s pre-clinical research in a mouse model. Hopefully once we’ve established the therapeutic efficacy and shown prolonged survival in our model, which I’ve almost done, and also completed all the safety studies, we can start pursuing a clinical trial.”

To read more about Julia Suurbach's research, please click here