Cartherics welcomes a new Senior Research Fellow who says she has finally found The Right Job

By Leigh Dayton, 20 January 2022

Pollyanna Goh – Polly to her friends, family and colleagues – is a specialist’s specialist. For the past decade she has worked in the field of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). She was such an iPSC specialist that she never considered working for Cartherics. “I thought I was not a fit,” she explains. “I have no experience in immunology research”.

But her Monash PhD Supervisor, Paul Verma, thought differently. Familiar with advances at the company, he encouraged Polly to apply for the job and discussed her qualifications with Cartherics. CEO Alan Trounson and CSO Richard Boyd interviewed Polly over Zoom and offered her the position.

“I was thrilled when they offered me the job,” says Polly.

From a start at Monash University to a position with a Monash affiliated company may not seem much of a journey.  Far from it. Polly’s intellectual journey began with her parents’ geographical journey.

She explains: “My parents are refugees from Vietnam in the ‘70s. They met in Australia and I was born in Adelaide. My first memories, though, are in Melbourne where my dad was a chef. I had a stay-at-home mum who looked after five kids. I’m the second of four girls and a boy who’s the youngest.”

It’s not surprising that science played no role in Polly’s early life. “Then I took biology in year 11 with Mrs Awad,” says Polly who was hooked.  She went on to Monash where she did a double-degree BA in commerce and science. “I did badly in commerce,” she confesses.

Science, however, became Polly’s passion. She went on at Monash to earn a Diploma of Biotechnology (Research and Management) and a PhD focussed on cellular reprogramming. Oh, and while at Monash, Polly met her husband, Damien, through mutual classmates.

Like Polly, Damien was interested in spreading his wings. So while Polly completed her post-doctoral training at the University College London Cancer Institute with Amit Nathwani and Pete Coffey, Damien worked as a clinical research assistant.

“It was endless travelling and fun,” Polly recalls, noting that it was also the first time she learned about immunotherapy.

Interesting as she found the field, Polly continued to focus on iPSCs at the Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London. She loved the work.

Then abruptly what had initially been a plan to stay in London for 2 years ended after 7 years. Why? Polly and Damien’s son, Harrison, was born. Their travel and fun came to an end and Polly became a “full-time carer”. It was time to move back to Australia where both their families lived.

Polly organised the move home. She feared that compared to London, Australia’s smaller size and narrower scope of biotechnology research and translation would offer few, if any, options as an iPSC specialist. She considered quitting science.

But Polly “got lucky”. She landed a position as a Senior iPSC Research Scientist with Crux Biolabs where she worked on the mechanisms of rejuvenation during iPSC reprogramming.

“Work helped me find a place again. I remembered who I used to be before I was a mum”. Damien helps too. A practising dentist, he works three days a week, allowing him to be with Harrison and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Millie.

“But it was pie in the sky work and not close to the clinic,” Polly notes, emphasising her desire to see laboratory research move to the marketplace. “Cartherics is almost there. And they’re interested in using iPSCs.”

Moreover, Polly sees her new job as a lifeline. “I can use my brain,” she says. “It’s fantastic that Cartherics exists. I can help realise my goal of using iPSC technology for immunotherapies.”

Still, Cartherics’ new recruit has one more challenge to tackle, this one on the family front. “My parents said they wanted a unique name for me and had seen the Disney movie, Pollyanna. In the movie the character is optimistic and they wanted me to be the same.

“You’ll be interested to know my older sister’s name is Polly. I don’t know what my parents were thinking when they said they wanted a unique name for me,” Pollyanna says. “It does lead to confusion when we’re both in the same room!”