Doctoral student Anisha Balachandran has submitted her thesis with compliments all-round

By Leigh Dayton

Image from Left to right : Dr Richard Boyd (Supervisor), Anisha Balachandran, Dr Nick Boyd (Co-Supervisor).

She joined the Cartherics Cooperative Research Centre (CRC-P) PhD Program two years ago with a top reputation. Now, Anisha Balachandran is garnering even more kudos for the quality of her work with the firm and the news that she has successfully submitted her doctorate thesis to Monash University for examination.

Anisha is a joint PhD student with Cartherics and the Monash Department of Materials Science and Engineering where she conducted the first two years of her program.

Her research focussed on boosting the immune system’s ability to attack ovarian cancer. Specifically, the goal is to unlock the utility and efficacy of CAR-T immunotherapy treatment of solid tumours by developing microenvironments for in vitro T-cell generation and CAR-T cell delivery. (See her Project Summary.)

“Anisha was the first PhD student recruited to the Cartherics CRC Education Program and has proved to be an excellent ambassador for the Program,” says Cartherics’ Education Officer, Graham Jenkin. “The link between Cartherics and Materials Science and Engineering has been most productive.”

In turn, Anisha is grateful to her Cartherics colleagues. “I had a wonderful time working at Cartherics. It’s a great lab with a great atmosphere and dedicated scientists.”

Anisha adds that she was “very fortunate” to be part of the team. “They trained me and helped me. It was awesome.”

It was also a long way from home – Kollam in Kerala state, South India – but not a long way from her early interest in biology.

The daughter of a lawyer father and an agricultural scientist mother, Anisha obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology at Kerala University and a Master’s in Nanomedicine at Amrita University. She then worked for two years as a junior research fellow at Amrita, specialising in tissue engineering.

Anisha then moved to Melbourne in 2015 to pursue a PhD and to join her husband who obtained a Master’s in IT from RMIT University and now works in the IT industry.

According to Jenkin, Anisha’s positive experience illustrates the power of networks.

In this case the ‘go between’ was Cartherics’ Principal Scientist, Nicholas Boyd who co-supervised Anisha. Boyd did his own PhD at Monash Engineering.

Because Anisha’s main supervisor at Monash, Professor John Forsythe, had followed Boyd’s career post PhD, he contacted Cartherics. Jenkins explains: “He said we have a bright student who has skills relevant to your interests. Is it possible to do some collaborative work?”.

Jenkin adds: “We met Anisha and were bowled over by her enthusiasm and expertise”.

Today, the networking continues. And not just for Anisha, but also through a virtual centre Anisha PhD Project summary called the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering of which Forsythe is a co-director.

“It’s where we get engineers to bang heads together with clinicians. It’s quite exciting”, says Jenkin. “Applied engineers and clinicians don’t realise the potential synergies that exist between them, so getting them together provides the potential for a very productive link.”

Of immediate value to Anisha is a mentorship program initiated by Cartherics’ CEO, Alan Trounson. It connects promising researchers like Anisha with the industry sector.

Already, Dawn Driscoll, CEO Cell Therapies, is discussing potential projects with Anisha. Cell Therapies is a member of the Co-operative Research Centre project Cartherics leads in partnership with the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash University, and Mesoblast Ltd.

Anisha is excited by the potential such introductions can make. “I always wanted to go into industry, into the clinical translation of science,” she says.

“It would be great to carry on in a field that helps patients and people. That’s my aim,” Anisha notes during a ‘Zoom’ conversation from Kollam where she is visiting her family.

The reason for the visit has dark as well as light undertones, her father died recently.

“Dad got the good news about my submission before he died,” Anisha says with a sigh. “He was so proud.”

Read more here : Anisha PhD Project summary