The Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS), the Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering’s (ATSE) industry engagement initiative, is a REDI partner of MTPConnect’s Researcher Development and Exchange within Industry (REDI) initiative to drive workforce growth in Australia.
REDI mentees are doing research in STEM fields with high job-growth potential and will participate in additional professional development and networking opportunities through IMNIS.
Adaeze Precious Ekwe – gene and cell therapies
Adaeze Ekwe is a PhD candidate at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia. A current recipient of the prestigious QUT Postgraduate Research Award and HDR Tuition Fee Sponsorship, Adaeze’s research interests include Gene and Cell Therapy as well as Immunotherapeutics. Adaeze’s current research is focused on developing a novel cellular therapy for Graft-versus-Host-Disease (GVHD) using genetically-modified immune cells known as regulatory T cells (Tregs), to improve transplant outcomes and quality of life for patients. GVHD is a debilitating and life-threatening complication that occurs in blood cancer patients who have undergone bone marrow transplantation. Current treatments for GVHD are ineffective for many patients. Through her research, she has been exposed to pre-clinical, clinical and commercial development pathways for therapeutics. In addition, she has gained experience in Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) based cell production, and acquired skills and knowledge in large-scale manufacture of cellular therapeutics for clinical use. In the lead-up to doing her doctoral candidacy, she completed a Master of Sciences in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at Chungnam National University in South Korea through the Korean Government Scholarship Programme. That was preceded by a Bachelor of Sciences in Microbiology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Adaeze’s REDI mentor with IMNIS is Dr Carrie Hillyard AM FTSE.
Mahshid Ghasemi – regenerative medicine
Mahshid is a Medical Doctorate (M.D.) graduate from the Semnan University of Medical Sciences, Iran. Following graduation from medical school, she worked as a general practitioner for two years. To pursue her passion for biomedical research, she later started working as a clinical researcher at the Royan Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Technology. Her research at the Royan Institute was focused on regenerative medicine and cell therapy in dermatologic diseases including vitiligo, burn, and scar. Seeking a PhD position to enhance her basic research skills in regenerative medicine, Mahshid was awarded the University President Scholarship to undertake a PhD Degree at the Future Industries Institute, University of South Australia in 2019. Her PhD research project focuses on investigating the mechanism of action of the extracellular form of Flightless I (Flii), an actin-remodeling protein, in wound healing. Furthermore, her project aims to determine the potential use of Flii as a diagnostic tool and/or therapeutic target in the management of diabetic foot ulcers. As a medical researcher, Mahshid’s career goal is to translate basic research into clinical applicability through combining her basic and clinical knowledge. Mahshid’s REDI mentor with IMNIS is Dr Natalie Rickers.
Enying Gong – digital health
Enying Gong is a public health researcher and a third-year PhD student at the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne. Enying’s research focuses on developing effective and cost-effective strategies for cardio-metabolic disease prevention and management and translating of the evidence into routine clinical and public health practice. Her PhD project focuses on how digital health technologies could be utilised to improve the access and quality of care for people with cardiometabolic diseases in Australia and China to promote better health outcomes and quality of life. She is also a trainee representative under the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellent (CRE) in Digital Technology to Transform Chronic Disease Outcomes, which aims to transform Australia’s digital health ecosystem and develop digital health research workforce. Enying has also contributed to several global health projects in low- and middle-income countries with a great passion for reducing health inequity and improve well-being among vulnerable population. Before her PhD study, Enying received her master degree in Global Health from Duke University in the US, interned at the World Health Organization and worked at Duke Kunshan University in China. Enying’s REDI mentor with IMNIS is Ronnie Wood.
Lara van Leeuwen – regenerative medicine and cell therapy
I am a Chemical engineering PhD candidate at UNSW with keen interest in interdisciplinary projects with a biomedical focus that promotes human health and well-being. My PhD investigates the use of polymeric nanocapsules for drug delivery to stem cells, and investigates the subsequent impact of cytoskeletal mobilising drugs on stem cell shape and fate. Future applications may include solutions to promote wound healing and tissue neogenesis. Previously, I completed a Master of Engineering-Science Management at the University of Queensland and was awarded a summer research scholarship which enabled me to gain knowledge into the use of microfluidic devices for cancer diagnostics. This resulted in a co-first author publication in Scientific Reports a sister publication of Nature. In addition to my STEM interests, I am passionate about mental health advocacy and previously worked at the Butterfly Foundation for eating disorders and also volunteered at Lifeline as a suicide and crisis phone counsellor. I am the volunteer Vice President of Turing Circle an organisation that supports LGBTQIA+ people in STEM careers. I collate a monthly Newsletter for our members and assist with Mardi Gras preparation. As a pansexual and non-binary person, I am excited to be part of a young and growing community that facilitates accepting, friendly and professional networking opportunities. In my spare time, I enjoy writing poetry, reading, photography, yoga, bushwalks and beach swims. Lara’s REDI mentor with IMNIS is Dr Janet Macpherson.
Yih Rue Ong – regenerative medicine and cell therapy
I am a third year PhD student at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Science (MIPS) in the NanoMaterials for Biology group exploring how drug delivery systems interact with immune cells in vivo. Prior to this, I completed a Master of Science (Bioinformatics) at the University of Melbourne as I recognised that the research field was moving towards a data-driven future. I learnt R and Python and worked on the downstream analysis of RNA-sequencing in order to predict drug efficacy and effects for individual patients. Subsequently I was able to apply some of these skills as a junior data scientist for StickyCell Pty Ltd by processing data on immune cells. I also worked as a research assistant for the Endometrial Stem Cell group at Hudson Institute of Medical Research for a year where I was involved in IVF and pelvic organ prolapse projects, liaising with clinicians (hospitals and Monash IVF clinics), animal technicians and engineers. My goal post-PhD is to develop my career in the pharmaceutical industry, ideally in the drug development or clinical trials sector so I am very excited to join the REDI program. I look forward to expanding my network, improve my skillsets and learning how my skills and experiences could fit in the ever-changing demands of the job market. Yih Rue’s REDI mentor with IMNIS is Dr Peter Mountford.
REDI mentors are influencers and decision-makers in the broader STEM industry sector. These IMNIS leaders will support and mentor the five REDI mentees in their professional journey, development and networking as part of the IMNIS program and REDI initiative.
Dr Carrie Hillyard AM FTSE is Deputy Chairman of the Mater Research Institute, Chairman of three biotechnology companies, and a Fellow and Director of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. After a career spanning research in London and developing diagnostics in Brisbane, she co-founded the venture capital firm, CM Capital and led its Life Sciences group. Dr Hillyard has served on government, public and private company boards and is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD). She now mentors start-up companies and young people seeking to advance their careers. In recognition of her contributions to biotechnology, she has received awards from AusBiotech and Women in Technology, as well as a Centenary medal. Dr Hillyard has mentored with IMNIS since 2017 and is currently mentoring REDI mentee, Adaeze Ekwe.
Dr Janet Macpherson: Product Specialist for the Cell & Gene Therapy portfolio at Cytiva, supporting the development of Cell & Gene therapy products across Australia and New Zealand. Janet has worked in both industry and academia as a leader of cross-functional cell and gene therapy product development teams with expertise in process development, closed system manufacturing and regulatory requirements. Dr Macpherson has mentored with IMNIS since 2018 and is currently mentoring REDI mentee, Lara van Leeuwen.
Dr Peter Mountford is an experienced technology entrepreneur with a demonstrated history of international support for all stakeholders supporting and benefiting from the development of the biotechnology industry. Peter is currently Principal at the startup Festiiv Pty Ltd. Skilled in innovation systems design with a strong focus of promoting national and institutional return on public investment, Peter is a proven business development professional and government advisor who has built a career based on Research Fellowships provided by the Australian Academy of Science and The Royal Society (London). Dr Mountford has mentored with IMNIS since 2017 and is currently mentoring REDI mentee, Yih Rue Ong.
With a strong background in science, and 15 years experience in the biotech industry, Dr Natalie Rickers brings an astute business acumen, and a passion for sales and marketing. After completing her PhD at the University of Manchester in Molecular Microbiology, Natalie spent two years in Lausanne, Switzerland as a post-doctoral fellow. Returning to Adelaide, Dr Rickers began her career with a small biotech company, GeneWorks, where she represented up to 13 companies to help grow their market presence in Australia. Following parental leave, Dr Rickers joined DNA Genotek as their account manager for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). Over 10 years, she managed the Asia-Pacific region developing distributor models and channel partnerships whilst opening up ANZ markets including in research, commercial, clinical diagnostics, HLA (bone marrow donor), agricultural/animal and infectious disease. In 2017, Dr Rickers moved to Canada with DNA Genotek. In three years, she grew a team and $11m sales per annum through a cross-functional role in marketing, product development and regulatory. In April 2019, Dr Rickers changed gears and started work for a San Francisco based clinical genetic testing company, Invitae, as International Marketing Lead. She currently works for Invitae from home in Adelaide. Dr Rickers began mentoring with IMNIS this year and is currently mentoring REDI mentee, Mahshid Ghasemi.
During my industry career in consultancy, business development and support roles, spanning more than 30 years, I have found the best way to effect change is person to person, whether it is at CEO, MD, Senior Partner or at the new graduate level. Similarly, business to business relationships, whether intra-company or externally, start with a one on one relationship. Some of my career highlights began by gaining the trust of senior managers in corporate and industry, then working together seamlessly to effect change across their organization. My relationship with the CEO of Telstra to design and manage a whole of business customer focused program, starting with the front-line staff and then up through middle and upper management was one of true partnering. In a joint project between PwC and DDLS to train the tri forces in the supply chain process, I was responsible for the selection and recruitment of trainers Australia wide and the project management and delivery of the training program in two regions, Victoria and Queensland. Equally gratifying was the creation of opportunities for and placement of graduates into their first professional role, some of whom now 20 years on run their own businesses. The achievement I am most proud of is being part of the team, who cofounded the IMNIS Program. Mentees I supported in the Pilot in 2016 have kept in touch and spoken openly about how participation in the program has changed them and their career trajectory profoundly. It has been incredibly rewarding to Mentor bright young PhDs who are our future STEM leaders. This is a program based on the one to one relationship between a Mentee and a Mentor, who’s time is generously donated. With over 300 Mentee/Mentor pairs working in one to one relationships, Mentors sharing their industry journey, opening their professional networks to their Mentees and supporting and encouraging PhDs and Post Docs, the gap between academia and industry is being narrowed and a place of mutual understanding, respect and willingness to work together is evolving. Ronnie has been mentoring with IMNIS since 2018 and is currently mentoring REDI mentee, Enying Gong.