Inspiring tomorrow’s medical research leaders

Therese pic

Therese Featherston

Therese Featherston is about to turn 18.  This year she’s off to Auckland University to study biomedical sciences.  She wants to be a doctor and to develop a career in medical science research.

Last year she was placed first in the Year 11-13 class of the NIWA Wellington Regional Science and Technology Fair, and she received the Genesis Energy Leadership Award after participating in the Realise The Dream National Science Fair, which is supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Not a bad track record for a young woman who’s still in her teens but who shows every sign of being one of the medical science leaders of tomorrow.

And Therese, like other budding young medical scientists and researchers, was inspired by Dr Swee Tan and his team at the GMRI.

“I did some fund raising for the GMRI in 2009 and I’ve kept in touch with Dr Tan ever since,” she says.

“And when I needed a subject for my 4,000 word essay to complete my two-year International Baccalaureate diploma, I asked Dr Tan if he could help with a project.

“That’s how I ended up undertaking the research project on GATA-1 in strawberry birthmark that won the NIWA Science and Technology Fair award, and that led to the Leadership Award. The whole experience proved to me that I really wanted to pursue a career in biomedical research, just like Dr Tan.

“It got me excited about research.”

GATA-1 is a transcription factor that plays an important role in red blood cell production. It binds to the DNA of a stem cell, altering which genes are expressed, and determines what kind of blood cells those stem cells will produce.

In this case, Therese’s research proved that GATA-1 is key to the production of red blood cells.  She also found that GATA-1 is present in the stem cells in strawberry birthmarks and, if that’s the case, the conclusion is that strawberry birthmarks can be used to produce red blood cells.

Why is that important?  If Therese is right, it means stem cells in strawberry birthmarks, once surgically removed and kept in storage, can actually be used as an independent source, or reservoir, that can be made into red blood cells for blood transfusions.

This will be far cheaper and safer, with much less risk of complications, than the traditional method of taking blood from one person and giving it to another.

“I’ve always loved science,” Therese says.

“I want to be a doctor and get involved with biomedical research.

“I don’t know where and when that will happen, but I’m confident it will happen. Dr Tan has been a great inspiration and a huge support.  Thank you.”