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Fast talking PhD student picks up prize

26 January 2015

Alanna Cameron picked up the highly sought after Becton Dickinson (BD) Communication prize at last month’s Australasian Society for Immunology’s (ASI) annual scientific meeting. She joins Malaghan Research Fellow, Sabine Kuhn, who won the prize previously.

Alanna was up against fellow Malaghan PhD student Cameron Field, and seven other scholars, in the rapid-fire Pecha Kucha style presentation.  Pecha Kucha presentations, Japanese for chit-chat, originated twelve years ago amongst the highly competitive Tokyo design world, as a forum for busy young designers to share and showcase their work using the briefest period of time.  The style, similar in many ways to the five-minute TED talks, rapidly caught on and now over 700 countries in the world have PK Nights.

“While it’s not hugely enjoyable, it certainly focusses the mind,” observed Alanna who used no notes.  “The slides advance automatically after 20 seconds, and we were only allowed 14 slides, which means in total you had exactly four minutes and 40 seconds to present your research. It’s a definitely a balance between knowing what you’re going to say, to keep to time, without sounding too rehearsed!”

Alanna has been with the Malaghan Institute since 2009 when she worked on a summer project with Professor Mike Berridge. “I had finished my second year of undergrad, and joined Mike’s group as a summer student, I loved it, so I came back the following year.  After beginning my Masters I found that it was incredibly interesting, and there were so many questions to answer in my project, so I converted my Masters to a PhD, and now I have less than six months left.”

“It’s been a fantastic project,” she continues, “I’ve been able to get a wide range of experience - in vitro & in vivo, human and mouse, all in one of the hottest areas of cancer research currently - cancer immunotherapy.”

Alanna’s primary supervisor Mike Berridge is only complimentary, “Alanna loves her science.  She is highly motivated, and wants to make a difference.  She’s is a very talented researcher who asks great questions and rises to a challenge.  Her project is supported by Roche-owned Plexxikon.  They have supplied the highly-targeted melanoma drugs she is using in combination with immunotherapy to improve melanoma treatment.”

Next year Alanna will begin post-doc work in either USA or Europe while no doubt keeping up the high standards she achieved at the Malaghan Institute.  Whether it’s a 20 second summary or a more thoughtful comment she is determined to contribute to medical research. “I don’t think there’s a singular cure for cancer - cancer isn’t one disease, it’s many. But I do think there is hope for cures for individual cancers, and in the meantime there’s definitely constant progress towards improved treatments."