From Embryo to Advanced Adulthood: Understanding the STEM of Human Aging

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1. Project summary (maximum 150 words)

I am an early career researcher at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, UQ. I have a PhD in Computational and Systems biology. My work models gene regulatory networks during normal development and disease progression to identify key drivers so that we can manipulate outcomes, like disease and aging. I develop bioinformatics methods to understand how gene expression variability contribute to changes in the transcriptome, and how this disrupts regulatory processes that contribute to aging. I construct these models from large-scale –omic data obtained from cell populations like embryonic stem cells or tissue samples, to compare across different age groups. These models can help identify the molecular determinants that promote healthy-aging, and provide insights into age-related disorders, like obesity and cancer. I use statistical tools, including machine learning algorithms to analyse data from single-cell RNA sequencing technologies to draw meaningful conclusions from big data about the biology of aging.

2. How does your project benefit Queensland? (maximum 500 words)

A key goal of my project is to translate my scientific discovery into clinical practice, to improve the quality of life of the elderly in Queensland and Australia. Currently, over 1 in 7 Australians were aged over 65 years. A similar trend is observed in Queensland with 15.1% of the population aged 65 years and over, in 2017, and is projected to increase to 25% by 2061. Increase in Australia’s ageing population highlights the demand for more effective ways for providing health services to our senior citizens.

In my research, I look into the effect of various factors like stress and environment on ageing and identify the genes that are responsible for the differences in young and old at a single-cell level. Leveraging this cutting-edge technology helps us to identify cell-to-cell differences between young and old at a higher resolution, enabling early detection of age-related diseases, and through early interventions prolonging healthy-ageing for everyone in Queensland and Australia.

My work will also positively contribute to Queensland’s economy, as the Queensland government has invested more than a billion dollar in aged-care and has programs to promote an active life style for our senior citizens. The outcome of my research will directly affect the government budget in age-care by early management of age-related diseases, reduction in healthcare costs through reduced general practitioner visits and less hospitalisation, leading to more healthy ageing and more active life style for older Queenslanders.  

3. What STEM promotion/engagement activities do you do/have you done? (maximum 500 words)

As a Science Ambassador during my PhD, I was able to connect and share my enthusiasm for science with a wide range of visitors ranging from high-school students to undergraduates and potential postgraduate students from all over Queensland. I run institute tours to showcase the research and facilities and talk about my project and science for those curious about a career in science. Since completing my PhD, I have been involved in organising several seminars and hands-on workshops as a part of Brisbane Cancer conference and Translation Research Institute seminar series, with the aim of putting Queensland at the forefront in promoting female representation in the field of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. 

In my current position as an early career researcher at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, I mentor PhD students and young visiting scientists, teaching them different aspects of bioinformatics, coding and its application in biological sciences. I am also involved in the teaching undergraduate and Master of Bioinformatics students at UQ and lead the practicals in the same unit. Outside UQ, I am a co-organiser of the R-Ladies Brisbane meet-up group. This group is the “Brisbane chapter” of R-Ladies Global. Through these workshops, we teach R programming language to women with all skill levels from all over Brisbane. Apart from learning new skills, through these workshops, we can meet women from different fields in science and technology, and connect women working in different organisations including academia, industry and government.

Being a scientist involves communicating my work and sharing my passion for science with the public. I was inspired by great female scientists during my PhD at the University of Queensland, and I’d like to be that role mode and inspire more young female scientists, share my passion for science, and empower them so that they can define the future and become leaders in STEM. 

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Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

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