Path to a cure

September 30, 2016

Path to a cure

Some people are put on this earth to make a difference. Doctor Laura Bray is one such person. Using groundbreaking 3D modelling, this outstanding young doctor is using her research skills to help find a cure for cancer.

At just 28 years of age, Doctor Laura Bray has already achieved what would take most people a lifetime. With three degrees under her belt, including a PHD, she has received a string of prestigious awards for her work, as well as funding to further her exciting medical research.

Laura’s passion for research began in 2006 when she graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of the Sunshine Coast. She then went on to complete an honours degree at the Queensland University of Technology, for which she was awarded First Class Honours and received the Dean’s Merit Award. It was to be the beginning of many to follow.

“I was lucky enough to get a job straight out of uni as a research assistant at the Mater Medical Research Institute, where I was led by a wonderful supervisor, Associate Professor Alison Rice. I was working on her project looking into leukaemia. It started my passion for research and I knew then, I wanted to continue on that path.”

Laura’s interest in her next area of study was ignited when her brother lost most of the sight in one eye after it was punctured by a nail on a building site.

“I did my PHD in eye research looking at creating tissue engineered corneas, which involved looking for a way to grow corneas from patients’ cells, so that in the future we could plant these cells back to repair the ocular surface.”

Laura was awarded the 2012 Outstanding Alumnus (graduate) of the Year for her work in 2012 and received the Prime Minister’s Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award to support her world-leading research in Germany.

It’s very difficult for young people to break into research funding, the success rate is very low, so I was very proud to get my first project grant.”

Doctor Laura Bray and Julia Gillard
Doctor Laura Bray and Julia Gillard

“It was amazing to receive that award so soon after graduating. I was really honoured and to meet Julia (Gillard) and Quentin (Bryce) in Canberra was wonderful, they are both such inspiring women. It’s awarded to just one female in Australia, so I was very excited.”

Laura was based in Dresden, Germany at the prestigious Institute for Polymer Research for three years, where she changed fields to follow her passion in cancer research.

“My project there was creating three-dimensional cultures of cancer. Usually in lab research we grow them on two-dimensional plastic surfaces so we can research them, but of course this is not really replicating the human body because we are three-dimensional beings, so this will hopefully help us identify different components of cancer development that have important roles in its progression. I was looking at breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukaemia in particular.

“My mentor there was Professor Werner and he is someone I still bounce ideas off today.”

It was while living in Germany that Laura received yet another award for her three-dimensional models.

“I travelled to London to receive the Lush Prize (young achiever) for my work in cancer research without the use of animals. They gave me 10,000 pounds, which I brought back to Australia to help me fund my research further.”

There have been many great moments throughout Laura’s stellar career so far, but it was a project grant she received from Cure Cancer Australia which has been a real highlight.

“I was one of only 17 people to get a grant from Cure Cancer Australia to support the development of these models,” says Laura. “It’s difficult for young people to break into research funding, the success rate is very low, so I was proud to get my first project grant.”

And something tells me it won’t be her last.

Now based at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology, Laura and her colleagues have already made great progress.

“We recently developed and published our 3D culture models of breast and prostate cancer, and when we applied clinically relevant chemotherapy drugs to our cultures, they displayed comparable tumor regress to that in models. At the moment we are in the early phases but by the end of the four-year study we hope to have more answers.”

But at the heart of Laura’s studies is a drive to make a difference to the lives of cancer patients and their families.

“Seeing patients and their families cope with these unknowns inspires me and if I can study cancer in different environments to discover which are prone to metastasis and relapse and the mechanisms behind this process, we can help answer these questions.”

Despite the accolades, this young woman remains incredibly humble.

“I love the colleagues I work with and the great minds I get to bounce ideas off. I’m lucky to have such amazing mentors who have helped me along the way. These are the same people I keep going back to. I have ideas but they are made better by the people I work with.”

And we are lucky to have you Laura. The Sunshine Coast salutes you!

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