Top-up Funding Guides Students Towards Bright New Careers

10 December 2014
Image of woman conducting an experiment in a laboratory

Five PhD students are now poised to take the next step in their research careers, thanks to the support of the TCRN. After receiving funding from the TCRN PhD Top-up Scholarship scheme, Peter Zarzour, Melissa de Souza, Sean Ma, Iman Jalilian and Jackie Huang of UNSW will all have submitted their completed theses by early 2015.

The PhD top-up scholarships are a TCRN initiative that provides additional funding for PhD students who are already receiving a government grant. To be eligible, students must be undertaking cancer-specific research that is aligned to the core strengths of the TCRN. To date the TCRN has supported 29 students

As well as providing financial support, the top-up scholarships also assist students to develop their understanding of the importance of translational inquiry.

“A lot of students don’t have a sense of where their research fits on the translational spectrum. They spend a lot of time in the lab, and they often don’t really think about the impact of their work in a clinical setting,” said Lena Caruso, Program Manager of the TCRN.

“What we’re trying to do with these scholarships is grow the capabilities of a new generation of research leaders with an understanding of the critical nature of bench-to-bedside research.”

In exchange for the scholarship funding, top-up recipients are required to attend a series of translational skills PhD workshops and the Nelune Cancer Ground Rounds at Prince of Wales Hospital. They are also asked to regularly present their research to clinicians and consumers, which helps them reframe their work as part of a broader translational picture.

Sean Ma, whose PhD looks at the role of ROR2 in colorectal cancer, said that the TCRN has played a key role in influencing his understanding of translational research.
“It provided me with knowledge on the steps involved in converting research findings into clinical trials, and eventually mainstream medicine,” he said.

“From a career perspective, being a TCRN top-up recipient has given me a once-in-a-lifetime insight into the world of health care and translational research,” said Melissa de Souza, who is investigating the use of novel drugs in targeting the ‘backbone’ of cancer cells.

“It has also helped me to improve my communication skills by allowing me to present my work in a safe environment away from my lab.”

For Peter Zarzour, whose research is exploring the role of epigenetic mechanisms in colorectal cancer, the top-up scholarship has opened his eyes to importance of taking a translational approach to health care services, whether in a research or clinical setting.

“[The TCRN exposed] me to different applications of translational research, especially at cancer grand rounds and at the skills workshops,” Zarzour said.
“My engagement with the TCRN has strengthened my aspiration to pursue translational research while practising medicine.”

The five UNSW students are due to submit their PhDs in early 2015.


Research Topic

Melissa de Souza

Defining the role of tropomyosins in apoptosis

Imam Jalilan

Determination of the impact of Tm isoform-containing actin filaments on the mechanical properties of cells

Jackie Huang

Phosphorylation of ERG in normal haematopoietic and leukaemic cells

Sean Ma

The role of ROR2 in colorectal cancer

Peter Zarzour

Cytosine modifications in the epigenetic regulation of colonic stem cell differentiation