Bethany Horsburgh

Bethany Horsburgh is in the second year of her PhD. She is working with the HIV Reservoir Group in our Centre for Virus Research under the supervision of Associate Professor Sarah Palmer.

She is sequencing the HIV genome to find where HIV provirus – genetically intact HIV – hides in the body.

Bethany started sequencing in her Honours year, finding provirus in subsets of CD4+ T-cells. Now, she is looking for combinations of cells that could contain provirus. She is also revisiting the patients who were previously analysed to see if changes in the cell subsets occur over time.

Only a small portion of HIV remains genetically intact. It is this portion that ‘hides’ in the body, preventing the immune system from fully destroying the virus and eliminating it from the body.

Bethany’s research may help us understand more about where HIV is found in the body, and how it can potentially be removed.

Fei Wen Chen

Fei Wen Chen is a PhD student. She is researching the causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in lean patients. Fei has discovered that the metabolic profiles of lean NAFLD patients are similar to the profiles of patients with advanced liver disease, suggesting that metabolism could play a role. 

Many lean patients are diagnosed with NAFLD in its late stages due to a lack of ‘classic’ symptoms, such as obesity. Fei’s research could help develop a diagnostic test for NAFLD, giving patients earlier access to treatment and preventing disease complications. 

Fei is part of our Functional Genomics research group, and is supervised by Professor Jacob George. 

Nicolas Sokolowski

PhD student Nicolas (Nic) Sokolowski is part of the Centre for Virus Research at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, and his focus is to design a virus that will help treat melanoma patients.

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world and according to the Cancer Council, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old, making this research a significant hope for public health.

In his first year at the Westmead Institute, Nic has conducted the preliminary testing on how the herpes simplex virus reacts with cancer cells – investigating how the virus breaks down and kills solid melanoma cancers, and how it could be more effective.

His project should ultimately result in a modified herpes virus which targets cancerous cells in the body without affecting normal cells. His virus will also be able to more effectively target a pathway that is utilised by many different cancers for enhanced growth and survival. Cancers often develop resistance to drugs that currently target this pathway.

Treatment for cancer is usually via a combination of therapies that kick in at various stages of the tumour life cycle. Adding a viral treatment to this approach will help avoid tumours becoming resistant – an increasing problem for a wide range of public health areas.

The concept of using viruses to target cancer is not new, but only very recently have there been positive breakthroughs. This is encouraging for researchers like Nic who have the opportunity to work collaboratively with cancer researchers and turn this discovery based research into more translational research with real impacts on Australian health.

Padmashree Rao

Padmashree (Padma) Rao is a first year PhD student working in the Centre for Transplant and Real Research where she is investigating how to arrest the progress of fibrosis (scarring) in unhealthy kidneys.

Chronic kidney disease affects 1 in 3 Australians, particularly those who are obese or have diabetes. This results in kidney fibrosis which cannot be reversed and is life-threatening for patients. There is a long waitlist for organ transplants.

Padma’s research focuses on the mechanism behind fibrosis development in the kidney - the ‘transforming growth factor β" (TGF-β) which is a key cause of fibrosis. TGF- β has two main functions: anti-inflammatory (good healing i.e. wanted effects), and profibrotic (over-healing which causes scarring, i.e. unwanted effects).

By testing scar tissue cells with various treatments, Padma aims to keep the good anti-inflammatory properties of the TGF-β, while knocking out the (bad) profibrotic properties – so the scarring doesn’t happen. It’s a fine balance, as the tissue cells cannot survive if TGF-β is inhibited completely.

Padma’s initial tests on cell lines (in-vitro) have had promising results; the cells survived with no sign of fibrosis. She has further tests to conduct before she moves into the next phase – in-vivo testing in mice.

Padma’s research is very important for the development of effective treatments for chronic kidney disease patients. However, her research could be even more far-reaching; loss of organ function from fibrosis is a common pathway to organ failure, meaning her results might one day be applied to people suffering from liver and heart disease.

Lauren Sartor (PhD)

Lauren Sartor is a PhD student under the supervision of A/ Prof Samarawickrama. Her project aims to pilot a cataract surgical registry and to evaluate the outcomes of cataract surgery, including the insertion of premium intraocular lenses, at Westmead Hospital. She has a background in psychology and medicine and aims to further her training in ophthalmology. 

Brendan Lee (MPhil)

Brendan Lee is a MPhil student under the supervision of A/ Prof Samarawickrama. Brendan’s higher degree will focus on the epidemiology, predictive variables, prognostic models, and economic costs of ocular trauma focusing on globe injuries. He has won numerous competitive research scholarships and awards, authored over 15 peer-reviewed publications, and his research has been featured on ABC Radio National. With a background in public speaking, performing arts and performing violin, he can effectively and concisely communicate complex scientific data and have presented several podium presentations.

Muhammad Khan (MPhil)

Muhammad Khan is a MPhil student under the supervision of A/ Prof Samarawickrama. Muhammad is a junior medical officer at Canberra Hospital and has a keen interest in ophthalmology, which is reflected by several publications in international journals and his current Masters by research on Australian cataract surgery outcomes before and after using risk stratification systems for case allocation. His enjoyment of problem-solving also extend beyond research in the form of 3D-printed ophthalmic inventions, which are freely available online, as well as being the principal author and editor of his book, Medical Analogies for Clinician-Patient Communication, published by Springer.

Renee Zanella (Honours)

Renee is undertaking her Honours year exploring the role of a novel glycoprotein in modulating corneal neovascularization, using a murine model.

Mirna Moucharrafie (Honours)

Mirna is undertaking her Honours year exploring resident leukocyte populations and lymph- and angiogenesis kinetics utilizing various models of corneal inflammation.