She’s part of a team that seeks to identify and characterise gene variants (or mutations) that are responsible for heart diseases, and in particular, those that can lead to sudden cardiac death in young people.
“Our goal is to understand the genetic mechanisms that lead to inherited heart disease so that we can develop new therapeutic approaches,” says Emma.
Working in the laboratory, Emma is responsible for analysing patient blood samples. She runs a number of experiments to see how changes at the RNA, or gene expression level, could cause heart disease.
“By finding disease-causing genetic variants, we can provide patients and families with a precise genetic diagnosis for their heart disease,” Emma says
“Our findings help us understand heart disease more generally. They can also guide treatment options for patients, and for family members, who may also have the same disease-causing gene variant.”
Emma says that she enjoys the fact her job is largely hands-on and that the impact of her work is almost immediately seen.
“My results indicate if the variant of interest is directly linked to a patient’s disease. This information is then discussed by the team and then communicated to clinicians and specialists who work directly with cardiac patients and their families. It’s extremely motivating to be a part of a team that is providing answers to individuals and families” she says.
At school Emma was always interested in science and enjoyed doing chemistry, physics and biology. She received a scholarship from the University of Sydney to undertake science and then developed a keen interest in pathology, learning about different diseases and how they affect individuals. This led to an Honours degree and then an opportunity to join the Centenary Institute.
Emma she’s says she’s been fortunate in her student and work life so far, and is looking optimistically to the future.
“My long-term goal is to finish my PhD, continue working in medical research and potentially teach and lecture at some point as well.”
In terms of career advice for young and aspiring scientists, Emma says that curiosity and passion are key.
“Follow your interests, don’t doubt yourself and always ask questions. Once you realise that there’s something you want to do, try and make it happen. It’s up to you, so just go for it,” she says.
The importance of reaching out to potential mentors or leaders in the field and grasping available opportunities is also firmly stressed by Emma.
“Most senior scientists will be happy to hear from you and will be prepared to chat and offer their advice. Their experience and knowledge can be invaluable in thinking through options and opportunities,” she says.
Finally, Emma says to look for initiatives such as internships and summer scholarship programs, often run by Universities and by institutes such as Centenary.
“These can be a great way to develop knowledge, skills and a professional network,” she says.
In acknowledgment of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Emma has looked to share her daily experiences at Centenary by creating a special ‘day in the life’ video which can be viewed online here.