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PhD Research Excellence

Congratulations to the 2022 PhD Research Excellence finalists.

Dr James Dorey 

Flinders University

Bees are a relatively well known and important group of insects, yet major gaps in our knowledge remain. Especially in Oceania, our understanding of bee diversity is so poor as to severely limit conservation, agricultural applications, and research at large. With changing climates, continuing habitat loss, and pesticide use, we are likely losing species before they are even found. These species, and their interactions, are critical to maintaining healthy ecosystems and the diverse number of species (including us) that rely on them.

Dr James Dorey’s key research has filled some of these knowledge gaps and broadly addressed bee conservation, spatial patterns, and human interactions; ecology and evolution; and systematics and biology. He has discovered and described 45 new bee species, increased our understanding of ecological theories and methods, and contributed to bee conservation in Oceania and beyond.

Dr Dorey has worked to disseminate his research outside academia. He has made much of his research accessible to the public with a book, magazine articles, news, and presentations. He uses science and photography together to increase his impact, striving to inspire people and encourage positive changes in how we see, interact with, and manage the natural world.


Dr Kate Secombe

The University of Adelaide

Dr Kate Secombe’s research into the gut microbiome in cancer has already provided beneficial outcomes to patients with breast cancer suffering from severe side effects. Her findings are used by oncologists to control gastrointestinal side effects of the drug neratinib. Dr Secombe’s research is helping to improve quality of life for people undergoing cancer treatment, providing better chances of remission. She has also successfully developed pre-clinical models that can be used to further our understanding of the gut microbiota in cancer treatment.

Dr Secombe’s research success has been recognised by various organisations – she was named the South Australian Young Achiever of the Year in STEM, and selected as one of only 100 researchers in the world to present at Falling Walls Lab in Berlin. She has been acknowledged for her successful science communication and engagement, and regularly writes research updates for a range of online and print media. She is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow furthering her research to develop sophisticated methods to use the gut microbiota to predict and stop disease progression.

Dr Chelsea Thorn 

University of South Australia

Dr Chelsea Thorn is a scientist and pharmacist dedicated to innovating medicines against infectious diseases. Dr Thorn’s PhD discovered a new inhalable and topical formulation to improve the effectiveness of antibiotics against life-threating super-bugs. The formulation was based on lipid nanoparticles designed to deliver the antibiotic directly into the bacteria that commonly infect people with Cystic Fibrosis. Dr Thorn demonstrated strong efficacy and safety of the antibiotic lipid nanoparticles in various infection models, which eradicated an untreatable infection after two doses.

Dr Thorn championed highly successful collaborations with experts in the pharmaceutical and infectious disease fields in Germany, Canada and the US to produce world-class research, leading to a patent and clinical development with pharmaceutical companies. Dr Thorn authored 10 publications in top-tier biomedical journals and received nine competitive awards during her PhD, including an Endeavour Postgraduate Leadership Award. Dr Thorn’s impactful scientific discoveries promise to revolutionise infectious disease treatments, improving the lives of millions.

Dr Thorn’s expertise is now being utilized at Pfizer, where she is a Senior Scientist in the Biotherapeutic Pharmaceutical Research and Development organisation in Massachusetts, US. She continues her research in innovating lipid nanoparticles to improve medicines for infectious diseases, most particularly for the mRNA vaccines.

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