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Associate Professor Mel Ziman

School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences

I get to do puzzles for a living

I completed my BSc Honours degree in Chemistry and so began my career. While I was (and still am) passionate about chemistry, the only research positions available at the time involved making better toothpaste or better shoe polish or paint. This was not my area of interest.

Luckily for me, my next job offer was perfect. I became a research assistant in a medical research laboratory working with a female professor, who became my role model, mentor and PhD supervisor. That was it, I was smitten with medical research.

I have spent my whole working life doing medical research. It is all absorbing, totally frustrating, but superbly exciting - like doing puzzles all day - trying to put the pieces together. So how lucky am I, that I get to do puzzles for a living!!  

Current research in my laboratory at ECU is aimed at understanding the role of different genes in the specification of different cells in the embryo (i.e. understanding which genes make a muscle cell or a neural cell or a skin cell). One set of genes, called PAX genes act like switches, that regulate different cell pathways directing formation of cell types such as muscle, neural and skin cells.

My research has moved on from the basic science of understanding the molecular and cellular events underpinning these processes, and is now increasingly about applying this knowledge to medical and biotechnological areas. In particular, my team apply knowledge of developmental genes to better understand stem cells and their role in abnormal cell processes such as cancer (melanoma) and neurodegeneration (Huntington’s disease).

I established the ECU Melanoma Research Foundation in 2007, firstly to raise awareness of melanoma in the community and secondly to raise much needed funds for melanoma research. I have met many wonderful people, who have helped me ENORMOUSLY in my quest to develop a routine blood test for prognostic use in all melanoma patients. This research has been generously sponsored by private sponsors, the Cancer Council of WA and ECU. We still have a long way to go and there are so many people needing our help and so many people that can help – it is just a matter of time until we reach every one of them.

My lifelong research career has engendered a passion for learning that has, I hope, enriched my teaching and fostered research at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. By exposing students to exciting aspects of research, my love of learning is passed on and students become enthusiastic, passionate learners. I have also learned a great deal from my students - it definitely is a symbiotic relationship. Together we can do wonders!!

Many brains are definitely better than one!! I cannot do it all on my own and I now know that I don’t need to. I have had, and do have, the honour of working beside many amazing and incredibly smart students and staff. I thank them for enriching my life.

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