Supporting future leaders of health and medical research

QIMR Berghofer international PhD students, Khoa Tran and Sarahi Rivera are dedicating their PhD research projects to finding answers to cancer thanks to the Institute’s Scholarships program and the generosity of Maureen Stevenson, a dedicated QIMR Berghofer ambassador, who is sponsoring their research through two philanthropic scholarships.

Her support is enabling these young, talented researchers to access QIMR Berghofer’s world-class training program that will equip them with diverse career skills and help them to pursue their passion for a career in medical research. Read on to discover more about their current projects.

Sarahi Rivera
PhD candidate, Functional Genetics Group

In 2019, Sarahi was awarded the Maureen Stevenson PhD scholarship and relocated to Brisbane from Mexico City to begin work on her project that focuses on identification of multi-cancer risk genes.

Currently in her second year of her PhD, Sarahi successfully passed her confirmation of candidature last year and has made exciting progress in her project. She has identified over 50 candidate multi-cancer risk genes and is now working with some of them to confirm their role in cancer predisposition and progression.

‘The most exciting thing about my project so far is identifying cancer risk genes that we hope can be used as drug targets for the treatment of a few different cancers including breast, ovarian, endometrial and prostate cancer,’ Sarahi said.

Last year, Sarahi was chosen to present at several conferences based on the exciting outcomes of her research project. She gave a short talk at the 2020 QLD ASMR Virtual Postgraduate Student Conference; Sarahi was selected to present a poster at the EMBL Australia Postgraduate Symposium 2020; and she was a finalist in the 3 Minute Thesis Competition of the School of Biomedical Sciences, QUT.

‘It is truly an honour to be the recipient of the Maureen Stevenson PhD scholarship, which has given me the opportunity to continue my post-graduate studies and ultimately improve the lives of people through medical research,’ Sarahi said.

Khoa Tran
PhD student, Medical Genomics Group

For Khoa, his motivation to research cancer is deeply personal. Growing up in a tight-knit family in Vietnam, he endured the loss of his beloved grandmother to lung cancer in 2014.

‘We had spent all our resources fighting the cancer, only to end up losing her to the treatment side effects,’ Khoa said.

Soon after, Khoa started studying computer science and embracing the brave new world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, which proved to be a turning point for his future career.

‘I realised AI could potentially help my family and many other families have better personalised cancer screening, diagnostics and treatments,’ Khoa said.

The 2021 recipient of the Maureen and Barry Stevenson PhD Scholarship, Khoa is currently a PhD student in the Medical Genomics Group at QIMR Berghofer. His project is exploring how AI can use genomics data and pictures of cancer to determine why some patients are more likely to survive longer than others and why some treatments are better than others.

‘I am delighted to be awarded The Maureen and Barry Stevenson PhD Scholarship at QIMR Berghofer’, Khoa said.

I am now focusing on using my artificial intelligence expertise for medical research, which builds on my commercial experience.’

‘I believe artificial intelligence can take humanity into the era of personalised healthcare much faster than any other technologies we have ever seen. And my career goal is to contribute to this new frontier as a scientist and an innovator.’

PhD Scholarships Program

QIMR Berghofer offers donors the opportunity to gift a named scholarship to help students pursue a full-time PhD project.

Donors and students alike gain great satisfaction from the philanthropic scholarships program and we are very grateful for generous donors like Maureen, who are helping students meet the demands of a full-time PhD through a named scholarship.

‘We’re very grateful to have the support of generous donors like Maureen Stevenson, who are providing inspiration and practical support for our future leaders in health and medical research,’ said QIMR Berghofer Philanthropy Manager, Graeme Higgs.

To find out more about sponsoring a named PhD Scholarship, please contact:

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