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Understanding the cancer cells that get away: Newcastle leukaemia researcher Heather Lee

Dr Heather Lee of the University of Newcastle won a Metcalf Prize for her work analysing individual cancer cells to understand how some survive therapy. Her research ultimately aims to prevent relapse and lift survival rates for leukaemia. We caught up with her recently and asked what’s she’s been up to since her win.


Professor Richard Larkins AO presents Heather with her Metcalf Prize


What have you been up to since you won a Metcalf Prize?

“My scientific highlights have been developing a new experimental technique with PhD student, Kooper Hunt, and developing closer collaborations with haematologist Dr Anoop Enjeti. I’ve also contributed to research manuscripts from UNSW and the University of Melbourne.

“A major achievement has been the award of an NHMRC Ideas Grant with my colleague, Dr Carls Riveros. We propose to study how acute myeloid leukaemia cells can change over time, to see if epigenetics can drive evolution of this disease.

“On the home front, I have welcomed a second daughter into our family. Felicity Rose was born in May last year and is a very happy and healthy baby.”

Looking back, what has winning the Metcalf Prize meant for your career and/or your research work?

“The award has directly enabled me to retain junior researchers working in my team, which helps enormously with the continuity of our research. Indirectly, the award has served as evidence of my scientific leadership in other funding applications.

“Personally, winning the Metcalf Prize has given me a huge boost in confidence, which is really invaluable. Knowing that senior colleagues can see my potential is very encouraging.

“All of the above have been even more important during my parental leave, when confidence and productivity both take a hit. I returned to work four days per week in January.”

What are you hoping for in the next stage of your career?

“My next challenge is to publish the research arising from my work in Newcastle. This will cement our team as an independent and maturing research group. I also continually challenge myself to think about how my research may be applied in the real world. I have excellent colleagues in Newcastle, who are leading me in the right direction!”