History boosts future of kidney research

22 Jul 2011

When PhD student Caroline Hendry graduates from The University of Queensland (UQ) today (22 July) after spending three years researching kidney disease, it will be thanks to a generous donation from a historian with an eye on the future. 

Dr Rosamond Siemon, an author and UQ alumnus with a PhD in history, endowed a $30,000 per annum PhD scholarship for kidney research to Professor Melissa Little's laboratory at UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience. 

Dr Hendry's PhD project involved forcing adult kidney cells to turn back into kidney stem cells, which might be used to repair the kidney without the need for dialysis or a transplant. 

“The project was a huge risk, it was never going to attract formal government funding until I could provide preliminary data proving it was theoretically possible,” Dr Hendry said. 

“Having the scholarship allowed me to pursue that data, and Professor Little won a $600,000 government grant purely based on results from the first year of my PhD, as well as honours. 

"We've now been able to push the adult kidney cells to a place where they do behave a lot like kidney stem cells.” 

The success of the project is partly due to the travel funding that came with the scholarship, which allowed Dr Hendry to attend international meetings with others in the field who were attempting similar feats. 

“Absolutely no one else in Australia was working in that space and to be able to talk with people about what was happening in their labs right that minute and how they dealt with roadblocks was priceless. Once I got back, having spoken to all of those people and soaked up their ideas, the project just went into overdrive and everything was happening.” 

Dr Siemon decided to endow the scholarship, as well as a bequest to Professor Little, after her son-in-law died from polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder for which there is currently no cure. 

“I never heard of the disease before my son-in-law fell ill with it,” Dr Siemon said. 

“He suffered for twenty years before his death. I don't want my descendants, or anyone else, to suffer like that, so I thought I would do what I could to find a solution. 

“I would like to think others are doing whatever they can to find solutions to the diseases they know about. We will never find answers without research." 

“It's meant an awful lot for me,” Dr Hendry said of the scholarship. 

“I feel a lot more responsibility and commitment because I know this is somebody's personal wish to bestow this money and see something good come out of it. 

“I thought about it when I was in the lab on Saturday night instead of going out. It was good to know someone was backing me.” 

Dr Hendry has accepted a research job in New York, in the laboratory of world-renowned stem cell experts Professor Ihor Lemischka and Associate Professor Kateri Moore at the Mt Sinai Medical Center. 

The Dr Rosamond Siemon Postgraduate Scholarship in Renal Regeneration is open for applications until Wednesday August 31, 2011. For more details, please visit www.imb.uq.edu.au/siemon-scholarship 

Media: Bronwyn Adams, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, 3346 2134 or Kathy Grube, 3346 0561.