Celebrating 20 Years in 2024

HDA Scholars

Where are they now?

Zhi Yi Ong

Dr Zhi Yi Ong, 2009 2nd cohort

Zhi Yi is a Senior lecturer and ARC Future Fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales. Her current research focuses on understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of appetite control and addiction. This includes investigating the role of neuropeptides, neurons and neural circuits as well as their interaction with the gut in regulating different feeding and addictive behaviours. In her research, Zhi Yi uses a variety of behavioural tasks together with modern neuroscience tools in preclinical models to understand the mechanisms at the cellular, circuit and behavioural levels.

Zhi Yi’s PhD project focused on determining whether being exposed to maternal junk food diet during fetal life leads to altered development of the central reward pathway, and was mentored by supervisors Professor Beverly Muhlhausler (University of Adelaide) and Professor Caroline McMillen (UniSA).

While completing her PhD, Healthy Development Adelaide allowed Zhi Yi to pursue her research in maternal programming of offspring appetite where she showed that maternal cafeteria diet during pregnancy and lactation increases offspring fat intake throughout life. This increase in fat intake is associated with altered opioid receptor expression within the central reward system. HDA also supported Zhi Yi’s research career through travel awards where Zhi Yi was awarded two HDA travel grants to present her research at national and international conferences. Furthermore, through the HDA mentoring and practicum placement program, Zhi Yi had the opportunity to connect with and learn from researchers in the neuroscience field (Professor Simon Brookes and Professor Damien Keating, Flinders University), where her research interests were expanding into.

Upon completing her PhD, Zhi Yi had the opportunity to move to the USA for a postdoctoral position in the Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience, Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Under the mentorship of Professor Harvey Grill, Zhi Yi begun her research program on the neural basis of energy balance control. In 2017, Zhi Yi received an ARC DECRA and returned to Australia to continue her research program at the School of Psychology, UNSW, where she is currently based. She has since received funding from NHMRC and ARC to support her research program.

We thank the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation for their financial support for the Scholars program and the PhD Excellence Awards.

Luca Prisciandaro

Dr Luca Prisciandaro, 2009 2nd cohort

Luca is currently the Acting Managing Director of Children’s University Australasia and Africa (IO), a program run by the University of Adelaide to promote equity of educational opportunity and establish new pathways to higher education for students aged 5 -18.

Luca’s PhD project focused on Identifying probiotics that can provide beneficial therapy for chemotherapy-induced mucositis, and was mentored by supervisors Professor Gordon Howarth (University of Adelaide / WCHN), Dr Mark Geier (SARDI), Dr Adrian Cummins (QEH), and Professor Ross Butler (UniSA).

While completing his PhD, Luca identified, isolated and employed probiotic supernatants in both in vivo and in vitro models to determine their efficacy in the treatment or prevention of gastrointestinal mucositis – a common side effect of chemotherapy. The work led to five peer-reviewed publications, and supported ongoing research within the laboratory. Furthermore, Luca had his first experience as an educator during his PhD and these experiences triggered a marked change in career trajectory.  

Instead of continuing down a path as a researcher, Luca realised that his passion sat in science communication instead and soon took on the role of Scientist in Residence at the Mark Oliphant College. Here he developed and ran iMOC – a science immersion program at the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy campus for primary aged students. Close collaboration with staff from the University led Luca to Children’s University where he has helped grow the initiative from one school in 2023, to more than 170 schools across the state as well as partnerships around Australia, New Zealand and even the island of Mauritius.

We thank the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation for their financial support for the Scholars program and the PhD Excellence Awards.

Lisa Akison

Dr Lisa Akison, 2009 2nd cohort

Lisa is a Senior Lecturer and Higher Education Academy Fellow working in the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Lisa’s PhD project studied the molecular mechanisms regulating ovulation and oviductal function. Her supervisors were Professor Rebecca Robker, Professor Darryl Russell and Professor Rob Norman (Robinson Research Institute, University of Adelaide).

While completing her PhD, Lisa used a unique progesterone receptor knockout mouse model to investigate potential downstream molecules and pathways that regulate the release of the oocyte at ovulation. This model was also used to examine the function of the oviduct – an important conduit between the ovary and uterus that is the site of fertilisation and early embryo development. This work has led to 7 peer-reviewed publications and laid the foundations for current research at the Robinson Research Institute to identify candidate targets for novel non-hormonal contraceptives.

Upon completing her PhD, Lisa had the opportunity to move to Brisbane, where she has worked at the University of Queensland since 2015. She joined the lab of Professor Karen Moritz and went on to lead preclinical projects examining developmental programming of health and disease. In particular, she investigated the impact of prenatal alcohol exposure on the placenta, embryo, fetus and adult offspring. Lisa trained in systematic review and meta-analysis methodology and has since published 8 systematic reviews, mostly in her research area. She is currently involved in a large review of the evidence underlying the diagnostic criteria for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) with collaborators at the Child Health Research Centre.

Lisa has also discovered a love of teaching, recently transitioning to a Teaching-Focussed role in the School. She is co-course coordinator for two premier 3rd-year courses in Biomedical Sciences, including the Capstone Course, and has developed research interests in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

We thank the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation for their financial support for the Scholars program and the PhD Excellence Awards.

Dr Siew Lim

Dr Siew Lim, 2006 1st cohort

Siew is a Senior Research Fellow and an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), from Health Systems and Equity, Monash University, Australia.

Siew’s research is on addressing health inequity in women of reproductive age with a focus on preconception, pregnancy and postpartum lifestages. Her research program includes a partnership with Diabetes Victoria to develop adaptations to their Life! program for priority populations among women of reproductive age. Siew also has a research focus on consumer-driven research in diabetes prevention in women with a history of gestational diabetes. She has established an international consumer group for women’s health called Cardiometabolic Health Implementation Research in Postpartum women (CHIRP): Mothers’ voices matters (https://hipp.org.au/networks/chirp/). Siew is also the Chair of Equity, Inclusivity and Diversity for Nutrition Society of Australia.

Siew’s PhD project studied the effects of metformin or lifestyle intervention on weight, metabolic, reproductive and psychosocial outcomes in young women. Her supervisors were Professor Manny Noakes, Professor Peter Clifton (CSIRO Human Nutrition) and Professor Robert Norman (Robinson Research Institute, University of Adelaide).

While completing her PhD, Healthy Development Adelaide allowed Siew to work on a clinical trial involving lifestyle intervention vs metformin in women of reproductive age of ~200 women, with a multidisciplinary team of endocrinologist, obstetrician and gynaecologist, exercise physiologist, psychologist and dietitian. This led to a research career in this population group.

Upon completing her PhD, Siew had the opportunity to:

-work as a visiting research fellow at the University of Malaya in Malaysia (2010)

-a postdoctoral research fellow at University Department of Rural Health, Flinders University in regional Victoria (2012-2017). During this time, Siew worked with a team that developed a diabetes prevention program for Diabetes Victoria, in which she developed an adaptation for women of reproductive age (building on her PhD).

-a research fellow at Health Systems Improvement Unit at Deakin University (2017-18)

-NHMRC Early Career Fellow at Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, Monash University (2018-2022). During this time, Siew developed a research program in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, including the development and evaluation of a multidisciplinary PCOS service at Monash Health, the largest public health service in Victoria.

We thank the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation for their financial support for the Scholars program and PhD Excellence Awards,

Dr Leigh Guerin

Dr Leigh Guerin, 2006 1st cohort

Leigh is a Patent Attorney, with the firm Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick, who specializes in Biotechnology and assists researchers in protecting their inventions to facilitate the commercialization of their discoveries, enabling the implementation of new medical treatments and diagnostics.

Having pursued undergraduate studies in Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Leigh was provided with the opportunity to undertake a PhD with the support of Healthy Development Adelaide. Leigh's PhD project focused on studying the role of maternal T regulatory cells in healthy pregnancy, and he was mentored by his supervisors - Professor Sarah Robertson (Robinson Research Institute, University of Adelaide) and Professor John Hayball (UniSA).

While completing his PhD, Healthy Development Adelaide allowed Leigh to explore his interest in research commercialization, including arranging mentoring and work experience.

Upon completing his PhD, Leigh had the opportunity to take on a Post-doctoral research position at Harvard University in the laboratory of Jack Strominger in the Department of Stem Cell & Regenerative Biology. However, Leigh maintained his interest in the commercialization of research and decided to change career direction when an opportunity arose to move back home and take up a role as a Trainee Patent Attorney. Leigh's experience as a PhD student and a Post-doctoral researcher, assisted by Health Development Adelaide, is critical in his current role as he needs to understand the complex science that underpins his clients' innovations.

We thank the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation for their financial support for the Scholars program and the PhD Excellence Awards.