Dr Kelly Smith is a developmental biologist. She studies how the heart forms in embryo from a few cells of undetermined identity to a 3-dimensional beating organ. During her PhD, she was in the place where surgeons performed Australia’s first split liver transplant, trying to get more out of the organs that they had, and she thought ‘we should be making these.' Given the vital role the heart plays in supporting life, she has focussed her research to try and understand this particular organ.

Dr Smith was involved in the largest forward genetic screen in Australia. Using Zebrafish, the study screened over 400 families of fish and found 30 different genes, nine of which were new. Through this study, she identified a gene responsible for heart arrhythmia and a protein called Tmem2 that degrades the extracellular matrix. Dr Smith had discovered the gene in her post-doctoral research, but the large-scale forward screen helped to describe its role in our body.

During her post-doctoral research, Dr Smith also found a mutation responsible for a congenital condition called ‘atrial septal defect’ where blood flows between the chambers.

Dr Smith conducts her research using Zebrafish. She creates a fish version of a patient (an avatar) with a particular gene mutation and monitors what is happening within the embryo.



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