By Leigh Dayton

When she started in January, the word spread rapidly. Publications Officer Aleta Pupovac was hired to use her passion for language, reading and writing to help her colleagues tackle the burden of preparing papers, grants, reports and the seemingly endless regulatory obligations of scientific innovation.

“My role is to liaise with the scientists who work here, communicate with them about their data and experiments so we can prepare research papers for scientific journals,” Aleta explains.

“I’m also to be involved in the documentation they must file to get ahead,” She adds. “I’ll be busy writing grant applications.”

Not only will Aleta clearly make life easier for fellow staff members, having a cell biologist and immunologist with a PhD and solid writing skills on deck will also help Cartherics advance its efforts to develop autologous and off-the-shelf immunotherapies. Why? The amount of time researchers spend writing grant applications alone – instead of working in the lab – is huge.

For instance, a 2013 study by Danielle Herbert and her Queensland University of Technology and Melbourne University colleagues estimated that in 2012, 550 working years of researchers’ time was spent on grant applications for the National Health and Medical Research Council. That is the equivalent to salary costs of $66 million — most of which was expended for no immediate benefit due to a failure to obtain funding.

Aleta is keen to help reduce such time-wasting. She wants to get products to market. “My passion is for translational science,” She says. “I really like Cartherics’ focus on the patients themselves.

“I like the translation component [of research]. It’s satisfying and motivating to have the goal.”

Aleta’s people focus is not surprising, considering her background.  She was born in Croatia. In 1994, when she was seven, her ethnically Serbian family came to Australia. This was at the height of the brutal 1991-2001 Yugoslav Wars.

Moving to Wollongong, Aleta’s electrician father and accountant mother indulged her love of animals. “I had ducks, budgies, dogs, even a pet goat,” she recalls.

Her interest in animals stimulated her growing interest in biology and physiology. So as a Wollongong University undergraduate, Aleta followed her curiosity into a university laboratory.

“My naïve and honest impression was that the lab doesn’t look like it does on CSI,” she remembers. “After a couple of times working there my impression changed. I liked the hands-on experience.”

Completing her first degree, Aleta continued at Wollongong, completing a PhD in 2015. Her topic explored how a specific immune cell receptor was involved in inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis. “If we have the mechanism, then we can develop a drug to target the pathway,” she states.

From there, Aleta moved on to postdoctoral research positions at Swinburne University of Technology, CSIRO and Monash University.

Then a friend from CSIRO sent Aleta Cartherics’ ad for the Publications Officer position. “She said I’d probably like it. She knows the people and gave me the heads-up that it’s an awesome place to be.”

At the time, Aleta was ready for a change. “I was grounded in academia with a basic science approach,” she explains. Her drive in the biology of the real world was just the push she needed to put in an application.

And Aleta is glad she did. For starters, Cartherics’ labs are “impressive, nicely set-up and well planned”, she says, appreciating the commitment to efficiently develop therapeutic products.

“It’s starting to feel like home. Everybody’s very friendly and lovely.” And Aleta wants to return the support, “If you need help with scientific documentation come over and see me!”.