Travel Story: Dr Sonja Frolich

Sonja FrolichDr Sonja Frolich from the Robinson Research Institute’s Ovarian and Reproductive Cancer Research Group attended the 16th Australian Cell Cycle Meeting: “Cell Cycle, DNA Damage Response & Telomeres” in Sydney in March 2017.

Sonja presented her research on Development of automated high-content microscopy-assisted assays for telomere biology.

This is what Sonja had to say about her experience:

What was a highlight of the conference?

Presenting my recent work on developing high-throughput microscopy algorithms for telomere biology to telomere experts was nerve racking but very rewarding. It provided me a unique opportunity to get feedback from renowned US telomere specialists, including Prof Daniel Durocher and Prof Julie P. Cooper, as well as Australian experts such as Prof Tracy Brian and Prof Roger Reddel. High-throughput microscopy-assisted assay I’m currently setting up in Russel & Robker labs have sped up our current workflows tremendously and will assist other colleagues in the RRI. The conference highlight was meeting Prof Julie P. Cooper who was very interested in my work on telomeres during early embryo development. She gave me a great deal of advice and was very encouraging.

Did you meet any researchers or collaborators of significance? Why are they important to your work?

Attending the ACCM 2017 in Sydney has given me an opportunity to catch up with both our close collaborators Prof John Carroll (Monash University) and Prof Hilda Pickett (Children’s Medical Research Institute, USYD). Profs Carroll and Pickett have provided valuable feedback and advice on my recent drug screens I’ve been setting up in Russell lab using newly acquired high-throughput microscopy. I shared my recent data on visualising telomeres in mouse pre-embryos. Brainstorming sessions we had over the course of the meeting were very eye opening and inspiring, and I accepted invitations to Carroll lab in Melbourne and Pickett lab in Sydney to learn and transfer specialist techniques to Russell & Robker labs such as microinjection or telomere restriction fragment (TRF) analysis. Attending the ACCM provided unique opportunity to hear opinions from both embryologist and telomere-centric perspectives and I look forward to working with both groups in the future. I have also caught up with Prof Braithwaite (Dunedin University, New Zealand), met his team and discussed opportunities to work together on high-throughput automated microscopy-assisted technology our School recently acquired. We are currently in discussions to have them over for a visit. Being able to catch up with my peers and learn from them is helping with shaping my own ideas and will one day help me score funding to do some cool biology.

How will the experience support you and your research going forward?

I was very fortunate to present at the ACCM. I have caught up with my former lab head and lab mates from Children’s Medical Research Institute (USYD) with whom I continue to collaborate, as well as made new friends who have expressed desire to collaborate. Sharing my findings and pitching automated high-throughput microscopy assays to a wider audience allows for open dialog and improvements. It helps me with focusing my research efforts better and with having a clear picture of what reviewers are after, both critical for preparing publications and/or grants. I was very pleased that my skillset is relevant and has the potential to help researchers move away from manual, tedious, labour intensive phenotype analysis to automated microscopy-assisted assays, bias-free and super-fast. Many researchers I met at the ACMM who apply microscopy routinely are seeking new ways to speed up their current workflows. Learning about Prof Durocher’s work on high-throughput multi-phenotypical assays in US has been eye opening and very inspiring. My work in Russell lab is headed in a similar direction. I am excited by the possibility of being able to screen multiple cell types/lines, using a platitude of assays all performed at the same time.

What was the most exciting thing you learned/experienced at the Conference?

Professor Cooper’s talk on how telomeres control both spindle and centromere assembly during meiosis was the most fascinating.

What was the most interesting or unexpected moment of your travel?

Receiving the news from the former lab head that my work on developing automated imaging-assays for telomere biology has been submitted to Nature Structure Molecular Biology!

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