Monash Grad Rachelle Duffin joins the team

1 March 2021

By Leigh Dayton

Fresh from a Research Assistant job at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and a Bachelor of Science (Honours) from Monash University, Rachelle Duffin took up her new role at Cartherics at the beginning of February.

She’s “delighted and honoured” to be supervised by Cartherics CEO Alan Trounson, Chief Scientific Officer Richard Boyd and Senior Research Fellow & Deputy Lab Manager Walid Azar.

At Cartherics, Rachelle’s overarching focus is the allogenic program. Specifically, she’s helping “rejuvenate” the thymus — an organ instrumental in the production and maturation of T cells – using genetically edited lymphoid precursor cells generated from stem cells.

Rachelle admits the project is challenging. “But if it’s successful it could be phenomenal for the off-the-shelf goal of making immunotherapy available for everyone, not just the rich”.

“It’s a vital thing they’re doing at Cartherics,” she says. “It’s really cool to be a part of that.”

Surprisingly, Rachelle did not work with stem cells as an undergraduate student. Instead, her hands-on experience involved boosting immune responses with combination therapies. She learned about Cartherics while searching for a PhD project in the Monash handbook and was fascinated by the company’s innovative work.

“I was always interested in stem cells but had never worked with them,” she recalls. “I was also drawn in by the commercial side not just the research. This is a unique opportunity to be exposed to primary research and the translational part of it.”

Rachelle’s interest in immunology, in general, began with a fascination with science during her high school days in Maryborough, central Victoria. Although neither of her parents worked in scientific fields, two of her three siblings were also interested in science-oriented subjects. Rebekah is now a post-doc at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and brother Nathan is a paramedic.

Immunology caught Rachelle’s eye during her second year at Monash. Then after attending lectures by Phillip Darcy with the Cancer Immunology Program at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre “cancer immunology stuck”. Majoring in the field, she completed her BSc (Honours) degree with the assistance of a host of scholarships…and a love of sports.

Today, Rachelle is settling into Cartherics’ home-lab reality with enthusiasm. Her partner Brandon is in IT, so can help with home computing questions, while German shepherd Tahli keeps her company.

And at Cartherics? “Everyone has been amazing at helping me settle in, but I would give a shout-out to Walid, Richard, Education Officer Graham Jenkin and Research Fellow & Laboratory Manager Nhu-Y Nguyen for their patience and care during this transition period.”

“Everyone’s lovely,” Rachelle adds. “They’re very busy, passionate, hardworking people. That’s important in a lab because it makes you strive to be better.”