Cartherics develops people as well as ideas

Three cheers for PhD student Rasa Islam

By Leigh Dayton, Cartherics Communication Advisor

She started last March and now Cartherics’ first full-time PhD student has passed a significant milestone with style.  Rasa Islam has successfully presented and defended her year-one work – turning stem cells into effective natural killer cells.

“I’m really pleased”, says Islam who confesses to being nervous about the confirmation process which involved submitting a written report of her work to her committee and then a formal presentation to her colleagues at Cartherics. This was followed by a rigorous interview with her supervisors and independent committee members.

The head of Islam’s committee is Dr Connie Wong, Research Fellow, Centre for Inflammatory Disease Monash Health. Her advisors at Cartherics are Board Member Professor Bryan Williams and Education Officer Professor Graham Jenkin.

“Rasa Islam completed all aspects of the confirmation process with a high degree of competence and confidence,” Professor Jenkin says. “The committee was unanimous in its praise of her progress”.

Islam joined Cartherics under the auspices of a prestigious Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Project Grant entitled ‘Allogeneic Stem Cell Cancer Immunotherapies’.

As part of the CRC-P Education Program, Cartherics offers high-calibre students like Islam PhD research programs of study that include international level research training, as well as opportunities to develop diverse skills that will benefit their future career, including clinical translation research and commercialisation of discoveries. The Cartherics CRC-P PhD Program centres on medical research specifically combining stem cells and immunotherapy to cure cancer.

According to Islam, she particularly appreciated the opportunity to expand her understanding of molecular biology, generally, and the genetic engineering of immune cells, specifically. “My previous experience was pharmacology,” she explains. “It was a steep learning curve.”

Islam is undertaking a “cutting-edge” project on genetically re-engineering the function of natural killer cells, normally found in the blood. The goal is to develop a novel approach to immunotherapy for cancer patients, Professor Jenkin says.

Not only has Islam taken a major step towards her long-term goal of developing and translating important medical research to the clinic, she took an even larger leap from her home in Bangladesh, as she discussed in this piece for The Pipeline.

According to Islam, it is now time for “the next step”.

And what’s on her agenda for her second year?

Having completed her confirmation of PhD candidature, Islam will now concentrate on capitalising on her impressive first year research findings to translate them to pre-clinical and hopefully, clinical trials.