Student in the Spotlight on Hannah Thomas

By Dr Xanthe Strudwick

Hannah Thomas, PhD Candidate and AWTRS Student Member, recently participated in the Australasian finals of the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition at the University of Queensland, representing UniSA as one of 50 finalists from around the Asia-Pacific region. This afforded her the opportunity to describe her exciting research into diabetes, the complications which arise during wound healing for diabetic patients, and the key role that pericytes (a mesenchymal cell type) play in improving healing outcomes.

Hannah is a 3rd year PhD student and Playford Trust scholar in the Regenerative Medicine laboratory at the Future Industries Institute, UniSA, where she is investigating pericytes in diabetic healing as part of a wider project for the CRC for Cell Therapy Manufacturing (CTM CRC), under the supervision of AWTRS members Prof. Allison Cowin and Dr. Stuart Mills. The CTM CRC is an international collaboration of 16 participant organisations spanning industry, clinicians, healthcare and research providers which aims to deliver affordable and accessible cell therapies for unmet clinical indications that are a significant healthcare burden. Hannah’s research focusses on reducing the burden of delayed diabetic healing by developing cell-based therapies to enhance healing with a view to decreasing the incidence of lower limb amputation in diabetic patients.

The 3MT competition encourages PhD students to develop their communication skills by presenting their 3 year PhD projects in 3 minutes using only language suitable for a non-specialist audience. The competition provides an opportunity for students to convey the importance and relevance of their research to a broad audience by discussing the human interest surrounding the basis of their studies. Hannah took the opportunity to convey the enormous welfare burden of diabetic healing, informing the audience that during only the 3 minutes she was speaking, 9 diabetic patients would lose a limb to amputation. Hannah’s research suggests a link between the delayed healing of diabetic wounds and a loss of pericytes, and indicates that modulating the expression of a particular protein, Flightless I, could restore pericyte numbers and enhance diabetic healing outcomes. If you would like to watch Hannah’s 3MT talk and learn a little more, please follow this link:

Reflecting on her experience participating in the 3MT competition, Hannah says, “The 3MT competition has given me the opportunity to take a step back from the intense focus of a PhD and consider the way in which my work fits into the broader picture and can impact on or improve the lives of others. It has helped me to distill down and remind myself of the real reasons why I am doing what I’m doing. It has also provided numerous opportunities to throw myself in the deep end and practice public speaking in an environment that one wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to throughout the course of a PhD. I really encourage other PhD student to take part, it is a great way to increase the exposure of the research that goes on in your lab and through the AWTRS, and importantly fosters the ability to convey the importance of what you do to the people who have the potential to be affected in the wider community.”

The importance and relevance of Hannah’s work was recognised when her 3MT won not only the Judges’ First Place but was also awarded People’s Choice at both the Division of Health Sciences and the University of South Australia’s finals earlier in the year. These awards will allow Hannah to travel internationally, to present her research even more widely and visit labs to form new connections which may develop into promising new collaborations. Congratulations Hannah on this great achievement, we look forward to hearing about future developments of your work, perhaps at the next AWTRS conference!