Where are they now? Alumna in focus

Where are they now? Alumna in focus

Illuminate newsletter index page, September 2019
September 2019

Dr Marthe D’Ombrain
Dr Marthe D’Ombrain is passionate about bringing
new, transformative medicines to patients.

Dr Marthe D’Ombrain talks about her current role at CSL and her passion for finding new opportunities to collaborate.

Where are you now?

I play a key role in the identification and integration of new technology and project opportunities into CSL’s global research portfolio and lead efforts to establish and strengthen key external collaborative partnerships.

What were your research achievements at the Institute?

During my PhD I studied the innate immune response to Plasmodium falciparum malaria in humans in Louis Schofield’s lab. The major findings were:

  • Early IFN-g is produced predominantly by NK gd-T cells, not NK cells.
  • There is heterogeneity in IFN-g responses amongst individuals. My research included a 12-month field study in Papua New Guinea to evaluate immune responses in children living in malaria endemic areas. We found that children could be classified as high, medium or low IFN-g responders and higher IFN-g responses were associated with protection against malaria in these children.
  • We showed that Pfemp1, the major surface protein of Plasmodium falciparum parasites, suppresses early IFN-g production and provides a mechanism for parasites to evade immune detection.

In 2009 I joined Doug Hilton’s lab and led a drug target discovery program aimed at discovering novel drug targets on immune cells as well as novel regulators of haematopoiesis.

Tell us about your time at the Institute 

I started at the Institute as an RA, then began my PhD a couple of years later. I worked as a postdoc then transitioned to a senior postdoc and project management role. The drug target discovery role gave me fantastic experience in project management and team leadership, as well as enabling me to continue with scientific discovery and learning new skills.

Through a Business Development (BD) internship, I learnt more about the business underpinning science and began thinking much more about translation. I eventually took on a full-time BD manager role with a secondment as the acting head of fundraising. Working in fundraising was very different, however, it was one of the most formative roles of my early career as it took me right out of my comfort zone.

I am really grateful to have had such diverse experience during my time at the Institute. It’s a fantastic place, with fantastic people and wonderful opportunities to learn about diverse areas of both science and business.

What are you most passionate about? 

Nothing makes me happier than seeing the smile on my son’s face. Outside of family, I am passionate about science and I love meeting researchers who are working on exciting new areas and therapies. I am passionate about finding new opportunities to collaborate that will hopefully in the long term bring new, transformative medicines to patients.

What are your professional highlights? 

Completing my PhD would have to be one of the biggest highlights – I’ll never forget that feeling of being on top of the world and really knowing so much about that area of research at that point in time. That was a very empowering feeling!

Publishing my first paper was also a highlight, as well as the ones that followed. I wish I’d spent more time celebrating these achievements before worrying about the next paper to work on. Working in PNG was a life-changing experience for me and I am also very grateful to have had this opportunity.

Taking on the role of director, research innovation at CSL has been a highlight and I am looking forward to working with great scientists in Australia and around the globe to bring new molecules into CSL’s research pipeline. I hope I will be able to look back on our work in the future and see a number of molecules delivered to patients that are making a difference to their lives.

Some of the biggest highlights as I look back over my career so far are really about the people. I have made wonderful friends through my journey both within and outside the Institute.

Where are you now?

We'd love to hear from our alumni about your life and work after leaving the Institute. Get in touch with Belinda Zipper, alumni relations adviser: alumni@wehi.edu.au, 03 9345 2928.

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