Spotlight on OzMRS Researcher

Carolyn Shembrey

What is your study background and when did you decide you wanted to be a research scientist?

I completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in Pharmacology and Therapeutics at The University of Melbourne. Following this, I completed an Honours project in the Department of Pathology; this firsthand experience in the lab ignited my passion for research and I decided to pursue this career path. I was subsequently accepted into the PhD program at The University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research, where my project interrogates the role and heterogeneity of natural killer cells in metastatic colorectal cancer.

What attracted you to cancer research?

I am fascinated by the complex puzzle that is tumour heterogeneity and the challenge of understanding the unique molecular mechanisms which drive disease in individual patients. I am equally engrossed by research exploring how this knowledge can be harnessed for effective treatment personalisation.

Why do you think research on metastases is important?

Cancer is a complex, dynamic disease and, as a result of tumour evolution, it is likely that inferences drawn from a primary tumour may not necessarily be representative of its metastases. Similarly, as compared with primary tumours, metastatic samples are relatively underrepresented in large publicly available datasets such as TCGA. Given that the majority of CRC deaths occur in the metastatic setting, I believe it is imperative that we invest time and energy into researching the idiosyncrasies of metastatic tumours.

What do you find exciting about your research work?

I really enjoy working at the interface between wet-lab research and computational biology. I am thankful for the recent technological advances which allow us to not only explore sequencing data from matched primary and metastatic tumours, but functionally validate these findings in samples from those same patients using techniques such as patient-derived organoid culture and multiplex immunohistochemistry. I can’t wait to see what new techniques emerge in the coming years!

What do you hope to achieve in your research career?

I aspire to one day contribute new ideas and insights to the field of metastatic cancer research. I am committed to a biomedical research career and I look forward to pursing my research interests as a Postdoc (and beyond!).

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