Finding cures for children's genetic diseases


Next generation of scientists learn from the best at CMRI


The brightest science students in NSW met some of the top researchers in the world at Children’s Medical Research Institute this week, to be inspired by where their studies could take them.

An exclusive group of The University of Sydney’s “brightest students’’ were invited to CMRI on Thursday by Professor Phil Poronnik, from the university’s Biomedical Sciences Department, to consider a career in research.
“This is one of the top research places in Australia, and internationally as well,’’ Prof Poronnik told the group of 60 young people. “This is an opportunity to hear from the best and brightest researchers and gives you a good introduction into medical research as a career path. We’re very grateful for this opportunity.’’

The theme of the day at CMRI centred on the ProCan project. The concept behind ProCan is to analyse the proteins, or proteomes, from tens of thousands of cancer samples. They would then be compared with others, to produce a profile and a unique treatment plan in a relatively short time frame.

The students heard about the goals of ProCan from CMRI Director Professor Roger Reddel, proteomics from Professor Phil Robinson, software engineering from Dr Brett Tully, the diagnostic side from Professor Rosemary Balleine, the intense data science involved from Dr Qing Zhong, and how genomics and proteomics join up from Rebecca Poulos. They also did a tour of the ProCan facility.

Prof Reddel talked about starting out in science, before moving into medicine, and becoming “hooked’’ on research. He told the students that ProCan was the first project, outside of the US, to be part of the Cancer Moonshot initiative which is declaring “war on cancer’’. 

“Our goal is to have every patient’s proteome analysed and compared in a global database to ask for the closest match. Then, what were the treatment responses and what didn’t work. What we’re doing is a very simple concept, and a very complex thing to do.’’

By having several different members of the ProCan team speaking, CMRI was showing how different aspects of science can come together in one project.

Prof Poronnik said he wanted the next generation to think about and explore all the possibilities that their degree offers, outside of traditional medicine.

“These are the brightest kids in the state, and the idea is to excite them and think about something different, because many don’t know what biomedical science is.’’

One student, Cellina, said she was attracted to research because she would “see results’’. Another, Nancy, said she felt it would make a real difference and would be “very cool’’. Vanessa said she liked the idea of being at the “forefront’’ of medical science.

CMRI has a strong affiliation with The University of Sydney and educates many of its PhD and Honours students.