IMB stars recognised in QLD Women in STEM prizes

14 July 2023

Rishika Abrol and Paulina Hall have been recognised as rising Queensland researchers, being named as finalists in the Queensland Women in STEM prizes, awarded last night (July 13).

Rishika is investigating how to help our body fight back against infection, while Paulina uses genetics to understand how cannabidiol (CBD) kills some antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Understanding chronic inflammation

Rishika works with Professor Matt Sweet researching our innate immune system, our body’s first line of defence against injury or infection, in particular the destructive inflammation the occurs in our body during bacterial infections.

“Chronic inflammatory diseases are a significant burden to our economy and there's a desperate need for us to understand these diseases and introduce new and effectivetreatment strategies.

“My research aims to tackle this problem by understanding how our immune system works and help our body help itself to fight back against infection.”

Encouraging others to study science

"Rishika is determined to put Queensland on the map for discovery research and encourage other young people to study science.

“While growing up I had no female scientific role models to look up to – it wasn't easy, so I decided to help others in a similar situation with their passion for science.”

Rishika volunteers as a Young Science Ambassador in the Wonder of Science program, visiting schools and engaging students with science across Queensland, and is also a tutor at UQ. 

“I think if I can inspire even one student then that's worth it - to any girl out there considering a career in STEM, I say be open to trying new things, because you never know what you might love and it may just end up changing your life, like it did for me.”

Combating a global threat

Paulina's research is helping to fight back against antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which the World Health Organization declared a top 10 global health threat.

"Without effective antimicrobials, the success of modern medicine in treating infections, including during major surgery and cancer chemotherapy, would be at increased risk," Paulina said. "If we do not discover new and effective therapeutics it is estimated that, globally, 10 million people will die per year by 2050 due to antibiotic-resistant infections."

Paulina's study of the effect of CBD on bacteria will help in the development of CBD as a new antibiotic in the fight against resistant bacteria, potentially creating CBD analogues with improved activity.  

A personal quest

The fight against resistant bacteria has a personal element for Paulina. She suffered a severe stroke between her second and third year of university, which still affects her to this day. While recovering in hospital, at her "lowest point", she contracted a resistant infection. It inspired the microbiology student to persue research into overcoming antimicrobial resistance.

This is not the only challenge Paulina has overcome in life. She moved to Australia without knowing any English at 9 years old.

"As a woman who has a disability, came to Australia from a different country and uses English as a second language, I’ve had to overcome a wide range of challenges to get to where I am," Paulina said.

"I believe my determination to achieve can be an inspiration to all women and girls by demonstrating the value of hard work, dedication, and a passion for learning.

"It's essential to highlight the diverse range of STEM fields and showcase the contributions made by women and underrepresented groups - encouraging and supporting young women to pursue their interests in STEM and providing them with mentorship and guidance can help empower them to succeed and become excellent role models for future generations."