Focus, accuracy and persistence–these are just some of the many qualities possessed by Julie Feng, a researcher in the Centenary Institute’s Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program and also a world-leading kendo practitioner.
“Kendo is a modern Japanese martial art derived from the fighting methods of the ancient samurai. You wear protective armour and use bamboo swords to score points against your opponent by hitting certain targets,” says Julie. “It’s very similar to the sport of fencing and involves a lot of technique and dexterity.”
Julie first became fascinated with kendo as a student, joining a club while at university.
Eight years of dedicated training later, she made the Australian women’s kendo team as a reserve member. Three years following that, she competed in 2018 at the World Kendo Championships in South Korea as a full member of the team.
“Our team placed equal third in South Korea which was the best result any Australian team had ever achieved. It was such a highlight and helped me realise that we can all achieve great things through ambition and hard work, whatever the goal might be,” says Julie.
Training four times a week, Julie says her kendo regime is both physically and mentally taxing but that it’s benefited her career in medical research too.
“I’m able to take the focus, discipline and patience required to perfect kendo into my laboratory work and scientific experiments. A disciplined mindset really helps as research is a long term process where detail and accuracy are paramount. It’s all about being methodical, there are no shortcuts to success, just a lot of hard work.”
At Centenary, Julie’s main project is the investigation of a protein called CTCF which is important in gene expression. It has many functions but is primarily responsible for binding strands of DNA and protein, packing them tightly together to form specific chromosomal structures.
Significantly, studies have shown that mutations in the CTCF protein are associated with a broad range of cancers including endometrial and leukemia, diseases that are a focus for Centenary’s Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program.
“It may be that the CTCF mutations interrupt or change the DNA binding process in some way or it could be that they’re impacting other proteins in ways that we’re currently unaware of,” says Julie.
“Once we fully understand the role of this protein and its link with particular cancers, we can then think about specific interventions which is the basis for the development of new medicines.”
Julie is proud of the research that she does.
“The work I do is fundamental research. It’s about increasing our knowledge of the body and how it works. It’s crucial for understanding and ultimately treating disease.”