In the News

PhD scholarships support future leaders of health and medical research

Passion, optimism and determination are just some of the strengths of our dedicated PhD students at QIMR Berghofer.

Khoa Tran and Sarahi Rivera are two of our international students dedicating their PhD research projects to finding answers to cancer.

Together with talented local students, their research has great potential to bolster QIMR Berghofer’s research capacity to drive faster and better treatments for patients.

Khoa and Sarahi’s PhD projects are being made possible through the generous support of Maureen Stevenson, who is sponsoring their research through two philanthropic scholarships.

Her support enables these young and talented researchers to access QIMR Berghofer’s world-class research training program and provides them with opportunities to develop diverse career skills.

Khoa Tran, PhD student, Medical Genomics Group

Khoa is the 2021 recipient of the Maureen and Barry Stevenson PhD Scholarship.

His PhD project, under the supervision of Dr Nic Waddell, aims to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to study cancer and its surrounding environment in a patient.

Working within the Medical Genomics group, he 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.

Khoa has a deeply personal motivation for his research. Growing up in Vietnam in a tight-knit family, 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.

With over two years of work experience applying AI in personalised cancer care, Khoa is now focussing his AI expertise for medical research and building on his commercial experience.

“I believe artificial intelligence can take humanity to 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.”

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 focusses 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 this 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. 

PhD Scholarships Program

QIMR Berghofer offers donors the opportunity to gift a named scholarship to help students meet the demands of a full-time PhD. The scholarship complements the professional guidance and support of the Institute’s expert researchers, who help students navigate their chosen academic path.

“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: