A Journey into the World of Science: Students Explore the Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics

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Phenomics Australia node, the Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics (VCFG), at Peter Mac, host Year 11 biology students.

On Wednesday, May 17 the VCFG hosted 26 year 11 Biology students and their teachers from McKinnon Secondary College in Melbourne’s south east. This was the first time a student group has toured the Peter Mac Research Division since the pandemic and an important event in the student’s learning as the pandemic restricted work experience opportunities.

The students were hosted by A/Prof Kaylene Simpson, head of the VCFG. Upon navigating the COVID entry requirements and admiring the building’s grand architecture from the ground floor the students were ushered to the lecture theatre. 

Dr Erika Cretney, Head of Research and Education provided a terrific overview of Peter Mac operations, research, and clinical activities; Ms Vicky Tan who is due to submit her PhD in a couple of months discussed her career path from being a research assistant to deciding to undertake a PhD and how she uses zebrafish as a model in the lab of Dr Andrew Cox to study the molecular pathways associated with liver injury. Dr Jamie Kuzich, a practicing clinical haematologist who provides cutting edge CART cell therapy to patients discussed his burning curiosity and dissatisfaction with seeing patients become resistant or relapse following treatment. He is halfway through his PhD in Prof Mark Dawson’s laboratory using cutting-edge CRISPR screening and single-cell barcode lineage tracing to understand cellular responses to treatment. Kaylene outlined a broad range of career paths that are open to scientists and the group discussed the importance of loving what you learn and being open to change and opportunity.

The class then split into 2 groups and spent time in the VCFG where they practiced pipetting some ‘blue’ water, watching the robotics in action, seeing live breast cancer cells, and watching the high content imager capture multi-channel fluorescence of cells perturbed by drugs. Down on level 8 in the Centre for Advanced Histology and Microscopy, Metta Jana showed their sophisticated range of instruments, and in the Flow Core, Eva Orlowski-Oliver demonstrated multi-channel cell sorting. The students left a little overawed at the scale of operations and the cost of the instruments!

The VCFG provides a collaborative and innovative partnership. Primarily operates a ‘researcher driven, staff assisted’ model working with researchers each step of the way, through assay development, optimisation, transfection and analysis. This partnership begins with a discussion with A/Prof Kaylene Simpson followed by embedding into the laboratory, training on instruments and performing experiments alongside us until project completion. Comprehensive user guides and associated instrument guides are provided. All data generated remains the intellectual property of the researcher. Importantly, each project is customised to the specific biological question, helping drive the project to the best screen outcome possible.

The VCFG is headed by A/Prof Kaylene Simpson and a team of highly experienced research team. A/Prof Kaylene Simpson can be contacted on kaylene.simpson@petermac.org.

Through the Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics (VCFG) at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research (Perkins), and most recently through the ANU Centre for Therapeutic Discovery (ACTD, The John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU) Monash University, and at the University of Adelaide (in partnership with SAHMRI), Phenomics Australia Functional Genomics and High-throughput screening services enable biomedical researchers Australia-wide with the ability to perform novel discovery-based screens using multiple platforms. 

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