Volunteer Service Supports Fresh Ideas
First Published: Investigator - February 2008
Thanks to the hard-working Volunteer Service for Flinders Medical Centre Inc. two bright young minds now have the means to pursue PhDs in groundbreaking fields.
Lauren Thurgood, one of two new Volunteer Service scholarship holders dedicates her time to researching the causes of kidney stones. Her doctorate is on how proteins help to control kidney stones, a field in which Flinders is leading internationally.
As an honours student Ms Thurgood was part of the research team led by Professor Rosemary Ryall who received a $1.2 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health in 2004. They were the first to discover and publish the existence of proteins inside the minerals, predominately calcium oxalate, which cause kidney stones when they attach to kidney cells.
Ms Thurgood hopes to build on this research by identifying the proteins within the crystals, and look at what effects single proteins have on the attachment of the crystals to the kidney cells.
She hopes her research will one day have clinical implications for preventing the formation of kidney stones.
Likewise, scholarship recipient Vicki Edwards is building on the research of Biological Scientists Dr Kirsten Benkendorff and Dr Catherine Abbott, who sought to harness the anti-cancer potential of a local species of sea snail.
It has been found the bioactive compounds involved in the Dicathais orbita or Australian Dogwhelk’s production of a purple dye have many possible medicinal uses, including a novel anti-cancer agent.
Under the supervision of Dr Fiona Young in Medical Biotechnology, Ms Edwards’ doctorate builds on “promising” research by Dr Benkendorff and Dr Abbott into the effects of the compounds on lymphoma and colorectal cancer cells.
Ms Edwards hopes to determine whether the compounds can also kill reproductive cancer cells, or whether they can have an effect on gynaecological conditions caused by hormonal imbalances such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.
She also hopes to investigate the viability of a homeopathic treatment for uterine cancer, Murex Purpurea, which has an active ingredient sourced from the same family of mollusc as the Australian Dogwhelk.
At present the Volunteer Service for FMC Inc. provides $194,000 annually to support medical research grants and have recently increased their support to provide for these two new PhD scholarships.