Doctoral students achieve key milestones

 By Leigh Dayton

21 December 2020

As a rough year for all comes to an end, Cartherics is delighted to raise a toast to Anisha Balachandran and Van Thi To.  Anisha dressed-up for a pared-down graduation ceremony, and Van passed her Confirmation of Candidature Review with flying colours.

Cartherics CEO Alan Trounson is the students’ main supervisor. He said, “it is an absolute pleasure to see our students progress so well under the guidance of our excellent team of co-supervisors at Cartherics”.

Anisha undertook her PhD Research jointly through Cartherics and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Monash University. She formally graduated from Monash University on 14 December 2020.

According to Cartherics Education Officer Graham Jenkin, Anisha’s PhD thesis, submitted to Monash University in support of her candidature, “was examined by two highly respected international scientists who were most impressed with the quality of her research and of her thesis presentation”.

At Cartherics, Anisha worked on biomaterial-based delivery vehicles to augment the function and persistence of a specific type of immune cell, CAR-T cells, on solid tumours. “She is passionate about the translational aspects of cancer immunotherapy,” says Jenkin. “She believes it can transform the lives of cancer patients.”

The award ceremony capped off a year in which Anisha experienced the high of academic acknowledgement and the low of being stuck in India for roughly eight months, due to Victoria’s COVID-19 lockdown.

Little wonder that Anisha is “grateful I could still attend an in-person ceremony”, albeit a short program only for PhD graduates.

“My husband joined me inside the hall.  I have shared the live stream link with my family back in India, so they watched me receiving the award,” she recalls.

Anisha’s fellow student, Van, recently completed a major academic hurdle for continuation of her PhD Program. She is assessing the ability of CAR-T cells to eliminate cancer stem cells both in vitro and in vivo.

After completing her Undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Vietnam and Korea, respectively, Van returned to Vietnam to concentrate on cancer biology and immunotherapy.

There, she was awarded an inaugural Vingroup Postgraduate Scholarship to undertake her PhD with Cartherics through Monash University. The mission of the program, supported by the Vingroup Joint Stock Company, is to find and develop talented young Vietnamese students, enabling them to advance science and technology in Vietnam.

Although Van felt strongly supported by the review panel – “They gave me a lot of advice and comments on my PhD progress” – the Candidature Review was a challenge.

It consisted of the presentation of a seminar to her peers on her progress and a written report that was reviewed by an independent panel of scientists. Van also presented her proposals for her research studies for the remainder of her candidature.

Jenkin emphasises that the panel was impressed with Van’s progress. “Their report indicated that she had ‘passed the confirmation of candidature with flying colours’,” he said.

For Van the excellent result was a huge relief. “Since this is the most significant milestone in the first year of my PhD, I felt really nervous when speaking in front of the panel committee and lab members,” she explains. “I told myself, finally it’s over.”

Aside from more hard work, what’s next for Van? “I need to socialize more and spend time to discover Australia, as I haven’t had a chance to do this because of the COVID-19 pandemic in my first year.”

For both Anisha and Van 2021 offers progress and promise. Congratulations!