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PhD student Nirupama Abeysekara targets effective scabies treatments

From an early age growing up in Sri Lanka, Nirupama Abeysekara knew she wanted to be a scientist.

Now a University of Queensland PhD student in the Scabies Lab at QIMR Berghofer, Nirupama is combining her curiosity for parasitology and genetics and a passion for the wellbeing of people and animals to find new and effective treatments for scabies.

“I was humbled to receive a full scholarship to pursue a PhD from the University of Queensland and it’s a great privilege for me to work in the QIMR Berghofer scabies group as the research coincides with my interest in parasitology,” Nirupama said.

For her PhD project, Nirupama is investigating a novel topical treatment for scabies, an itchy contagious skin disease caused by an infestation of a parasitic mite species, which afflicts more than 300 million people each year. There is no vaccine available and the available drugs are suboptimal.

“I am contributing my best to understanding and elucidating the molecular target of this disease. This may lead to the development of new drug candidates,” she said.

Nirupama’s research has already been recognised through various awards: she was awarded best poster presenter at the International Research Conference Uva Wellassa University Sri Lanka in 2019 and she recently won the People’s Choice Award for a short talk at the Australian Society for Medical Research Conference.

Nirupama is also keen to share her passion for STEM with budding researchers. She has been a Wonder of Science ambassador for UQ, promoting STEM to school students in Queensland and presented about her scabies research at National Science Week in 2020.

Nirupama hopes the outcomes of her research project will help in the global fight to treat scabies and translate to better education in disease prevention, particularly in her home country of Sri Lanka.

“My goal is to find a novel, highly effective treatment for scabies. For me, that would be the ultimate research outcome.”