UNSW Scientia Fellow based at the Children’s Cancer Institute, Dr Angelica Merlot, has been nominated for the 2019 NSW Young Woman of the Year award for her achievements and research into treatments for the deadliest cancers.
“I have a close family member with leukemia and I’ve lost an uncle and aunt to cancer,” says Dr Merlot, who grew up in Sydney and became interested in biology as a high school student at Brigidine College, Randwick. “I’ve always been interested in how the human body works in normal and diseased states, and how we can alter these states through medicine. It was firsthand experience that really pushed me to enter the field.”
Dr Merlot, who completed her PhD in Medicine at 24, focuses her research on the deadliest of cancers, including pancreatic and brain cancer, developing new anti-cancer drugs that target drug resistance and suppress cancer spread. For instance, pancreatic cancer has some of the lowest survival rates, often diagnosed late and at advanced stage, with 92% of patients dying within the first five years after diagnosis.
In 2018, Dr Merlot was named as Australia’s youngest ever National Health and Medical Research Council Grant recipient.
Dr Merlot’s cancer biology projects focus on understanding the mechanisms by which cancer cells grow and adapt to their environment, why drugs become less effective and the development of nanoparticles to improve drug delivery.
“Some of the advances we are seeing in cancer are our understanding of the tumour itself – how it consists of more than just cancer cells but other important cells that help the cancer adapt and survive. A large area of advancement is immunotherapy and our understanding of the interactions of the immune system with cancer. Immunotherapy helps boost your immune system to attack the cancer to maximise patient outcomes,” says Dr Merlot.
“We are understanding more about the genetics of the disease and, with personalised medicine, we are hopeful that we can improve survival rates.”
“It is wonderful to be acknowledged for work in this field and I am so grateful to be nominated as a finalist. It is vital to encourage more women to study medicine and stay working in the field. At my current level, I see an equal number of women and men but when you move up to professorial levels there is a disproportion.”
The NSW Women of the Year Awards is a NSW government program celebrating the outstanding contribution made by women across the state to industry, communities and society.
The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Sydney on Thursday 7 March, on the eve of International Women’s Day on Friday 8 March.
The awards are open for public voting. To vote for Dr Angelica Merlot click here.