Dr Amy Wilson
Leader Cell Team
Hudson Institute of Medical Research
What is your current research focussed on?
I am currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Centre for Cancer Research at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Victoria. My current research with the Leader Cell Team led by Dr Maree Bilandzic is focussed on investigating and targeting a small but deadly subset of ovarian cancer cells called ‘Leader cells’ to improve outcomes for ovarian cancer patients.
What is your study background and when did you decide you wanted to be a research scientist?
I obtained a Bachelor of Science (Medical Bioscience) at Monash University in Gippsland, then a Bachelor of Science (Honours) at Monash University and Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Clayton. Following my undergraduate studies, I went on to complete a PhD under the supervision of Dist. Prof. Magdalena Plebanski in the Department of Immunology, Monash University and Dr. Andrew Stephens in the Centre of Cancer Research at Hudson Institute.
It was during my Honours year that I gained an appreciation for medical research. After learning that the symptoms for ovarian cancer are vague and non-specific and most patients will experience disease recurrence and treatment resistance, I became passionate about improving the dismal survival rates that ovarian cancer patients face.
What attracted you to cancer research?
Cancer biology is particularly interesting to me because it’s intrinsic, unlike viruses or bacteria that can infect us, cancer develops as a result of an inherent or acquired problem with our own cells. The complexity of cancer biology is like a large puzzle with so many contributing factors, and that’s what makes it fascinating.
Why do you think research on metastases is important?
Over 90% of cancer-related deaths are due to metastatic disease. Once cancer has spread, it is exponentially more difficult to treat compared to early-stage, localised cancer. Further, there is currently no early detection test for various cancer types, including ovarian cancer. I believe it is important to give patients who were not fortunate enough to detect cancer in its earliest stages the best opportunity to beat their disease. This is why we need more research in the metastasis space in order to develop more effective therapies that will achieve long-term survival.
What do you find exciting about your research work?
Our team has shown for the first time that ovarian cancer ‘leader cells’ drive metastasis and invasion into healthy tissue. Leader cells can survive and thrive in standard-of-care ovarian cancer treatment, meaning they can potentially cause disease recurrence.
I love being a part of the Leader Cell Team because the research and approaches are extremely novel and it’s easy to see the translational capabilities of our research. I am passionate about developing new ways to treat ovarian cancer because I want to make a difference to those that are affected by this insidious disease.
What do you hope to achieve in your research career?
I hope that my research will improve our understanding of cancer biology and develop new ways to treat ovarian cancer. My ultimate goal is to improve the lives of those with ovarian cancer.