Dr Tom Bee stem cell research and travel fund recipient heads to Oxford

In 2010, Dr Tom Bee, a researcher in the stem cell laboratory at the UNSW Lowy Cancer Research Centre, died suddenly at the age of 27 from a rare genetic disorder – Ornithine Transcarbamylase Deficiency, when ammonia accumulates in the blood.

After his death, his family established the Dr Tom Bee Stem Cell Research and Travel Fund to support UNSW medical researchers develop research links between the stem cell laboratory at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre and other centres internationally.

Last year’s recipient of the fund was Dr Jono Marks-Bluth, a 28-year-old researcher, studying for a PhD under the supervision of Associate Professor John Pimanda, head of the stem cell laboratory at the Lowy.

This support allowed Marks-Bluth to  travel to the UK,  and work collaboratively for a year with Associate Professor Marella de Bruijn, a renowned international expert in stem cell research in her lab at the Weatherall Institute for Molecular Medicine at Oxford University. 
“I had done my Honours year in the Pimanda laboratory as an extension to my combined Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Commerce, working with Tom Bee in 2010 before he died, so I knew him personally,” Marks-Bluth says. “And this travel fund really helped me to carry on in stem cell research and complete my PhD.”

Marks-Bluth’s particular PhD project looked at how blood and blood vessels form in embryos. Coming to Oxford was a real eye opener and expanded the breadth of his scientific enquiry. “It was a fantastic experience,” he says. “While the benchmark of research was quite similar to UNSW, the diversity of people that I worked with was really great.”

Marks-Bluth says the wider application of his research (which is about to be published in a peer-reviewed article in a scientific journal) falls broadly into two categories; it may offer a new understanding of how Leukaemia (blood cancer) develops.

“Also, by studying the formation of blood in embryos naturally, this can apply to the formation of blood stem cells from other cell types as a potential therapeutic treatment for blood disorders, to replace and improve on bone marrow transfers, although this is likely to be many years away,” Marks-Bluth says.

After receiving his PhD from UNSW in August last year, Marks-Bluth has now returned to the UK and works in London as a management consultant to the pharmaceutical industry.

“The UK has really taken biotechnological research and development to a mature level. So I plan to deepen my skills base here and then return to Australia in five or so years,” he says.

If you would like further information on how you can support the Dr Tom Bee Fund, please contact Irena Tasevska on 02 9385 3215 or i.tasevska[at]unsw.edu[dot]au.

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