HOME > BLOG > Community > Young scientist’s ground-breaking work into autoimmune diseases takes out major research prize for 2017

Dr Joanne Reed, the recently named winner of the 2017 State Custodians’ Young Garvan Edgy Ideas Award, tells us more about her innovative research into autoimmune diseases.

Throughout her career, Dr Joanne Reed has been fortunate to learn from some of the best scientific minds around the globe – as a young student at Adelaide’s Flinders University, and during her post-doctorate stints in New York and Canberra.

However, Joanne is now the one inspiring others with her innovative research into autoimmune diseases which recently took out the 2017 Young Garvan Edgy Ideas Award sponsored by State Custodians. Joanne, who has an undergraduate degree in molecular biology and a PhD in immunology, formulated an idea to look at thousands of “rogue cells” which cause autoimmune diseases in just one second through a process called flow cytometry.

Based in Sydney’s Maroubra, the 34-year-old is over the moon that her $25,000 award grant from State Custodians will now contribute towards the next important phase of research. She tells us more about her amazing work here.

Congratulations on winning this year’s Edgy Ideas Award! How did you feel when your name was announced?

  • Thank you! It was a really thrilling moment for me because I’m just so excited about the potential of the idea.

So can you tell us a bit more about your winning idea?

  • Basically, I’ve been focussing on tracking down the immune cells that actually cause autoimmune diseases such as lupus, type one diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.

    We’ve been able to do this in the laboratory through sequencing cells and antibodies, but it’s taken a lot of time and money to do so. We want to bring the costs down so we can track the cells for all patients. So my idea was to use all the information we have gathered from sequencing rogue cells in a different technique called flow cytometry, which is capable of looking at thousands of cells per second. This will then free up time and resources in order to concentrate on finding cures.

Now that you’ve won the award, what’s the next stage of the research?

  • We’re going to recruit 60 patients over the next six months and look for these “rogue cells” in each of them. We’re hoping to find new markers to track rogue cells over time and suggest the most effective drug treatments. Then we can monitor if the rogue cells dissipate. If they resist, then we know we have to try something else.

Why are you passionate about the science of autoimmune diseases?

  • There are actually around 100 different autoimmune diseases affecting many millions of people worldwide. I’ve always found it really fascinating that immune cells are in all of our bodies to protect us, and yet they can also turn on the body as well. I like exploring the science behind the immune system and also the controls that are in place once an infection is cleared.

SC Young Garvan Awards 2016

You were up against your fellow colleagues, Dr Arcadi Cipponi and Dr Joanna Achinger-Kawecka, who were also nominated for the award. How were you all feeling in the lead up to the announcement?

  • As scientists we are very familiar with competing with our colleagues for funding opportunities but for this particular award we were all feeling pretty nervous! Pitching the idea to a panel of people who aren’t scientists is not something you usually do, so it was a challenge. However, being mentored by Young Garvan Committee members working in finance, business and marketing was a really valuable learning experience.

Why is science a worthwhile vocation for young people?

  • It’s fantastic if you’ve got a lot of natural curiousity. You can design experiments to answer your own questions. It’s very rewarding when you can finally understand something and provide a community payoff in helping others. You also get to meet people from all types of backgrounds and learn from the best minds around the word.

When you’re not coming up with amazing ideas, what do you like to do in your spare time?

  • My husband and I like to spend time with our dog EV who we adopted when we were living in New York. She loves being an Aussie! I also like bike riding, bushwalking and spending time down at my local beach. During the winter I attend as many AFL games as I can, cheering on the Sydney Swans.

Finally, how would you like to be remembered?

  • As someone that used innovation and technology to solve some of society’s major health problems. Becoming a leader in autoimmune disease research has been my passion for a long time and I just want to continue to contribute to the field for as long as I can.