The L'Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Fellowships

22 Nov 2017

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Since 2007, the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Australia & New Zealand Fellowships have been recognising the achievements of exceptional female scientists at different stages of their careers. This year’s Australian recipients are inspiring role models for a new generation.
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While women might be underrepresented in some scientific fields, the scale, and importance, of their contribution across the spectrum is immense.

Linking obesity and heart disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is not just the leading cause of death in Australia, it’s also more prevalent in obese patients, with 78 per cent of hypertension in men and 65 per cent in women attributed to excess body weight.

Stephanie Simonds, a researcher at Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) has recently identified that the fat-derived hormone, leptin, acts on the brain to produce abnormally high blood pressure — a major contributor to heart disease and stroke — in obese people. 

Simonds also noticed that CVD was delayed in women, compared to men, until after menopause, despite comparable leptin concentrations. Now she is looking at the role of oestrogen in the brain in an effort to understand its role in decreasing blood pressure in pre-menopausal, obese women. 

Her work will be crucial in future treatment of cardiovascular diseases in obesity.

Gut feeling

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is very common in Australia, and is becoming more severe and more complex. Yet, we know very little about it. 

Jaclyn Pearson, a Monash University microbiologist, is investigating the link between gut bacteria and IBD. She believes that a heightened response to gut bacteria may be the underlying basis of chronic inflammatory diseases of the bowel. 

Pearson’s research will investigate the dysregulated immune response seen in IBD and characterise the specific microorganisms within the gut during infection. Verifying the specific host immune responses vital to fighting bacterial infection, and understanding how gut microorganisms  influence disease severity, is essential to future treatment.

Tackling the spread of antibiotic resistance

Deborah Williamson, from the Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity Research, believes that the global overuse of antibiotics and growing antibacterial resistance is one of the biggest man-made health threats of the modern age. 

The ability of bacteria to resist the effects of antibiotic treatments is leaving health care professionals with limited or, in some instances, no available treatment options. Common infections are becoming life threatening in some cases as antibiotics cease being effective.

Williamson’s research will determine the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, and importantly develop a framework crucial for investigating antibiotic resistance in other bacteria. The research findings will inform the most appropriate ways to use antibiotics and antiseptics (in both community and hospital settings) and ultimately help to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance.

The quantum world

Jacq Romero’s research lies within the mysterious world of quantum physics and the intriguing theory of entanglement – that information is shared between particles regardless of how far apart they are (even existing at opposite sides of the universe!).

While the quantum world is relatively unknown, it holds much potential for the future. Physicists believe that it could increase transmission of data, improve security, and produce even further technological advancements. 

By creating quantum alphabets, Jacq Romero, from the University of Queensland, is trying to unlock some of the mysteries of the very puzzling properties of higher dimension quantum information.