Stem cell biologist Dr Mona Shehata inspires Year 11 students

As a child Mona Shehata was curious about the human body and how it works. She was encouraged by her father, a chemist and immigrant to Australia from Egypt.

Dr Shehata is now the Trinity Krishnan-Ang Senior Postdoctoral Researcher, based at the Hutchison/MRC Centre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where she works on breast cancer biology.

In July she will take part in Trinity’s Stonehouse Residential, with 45 Year 11 students from schools as far afield as Newcastle, the Isle of Wight, London and Warrington.

Dr Shehata believes it is important to start talking to students early on, not only about study habits, exam choices and other practical matters, but also about future career paths.

‘Everyone talks about striving to be the best you can, the ‘aim high, reach further’ gimmick, and that’s all nice and good,’ she says.

What I think is more important is life-long vision. Where are you going to make the bigger impact and where will give you the greater impact on your future?

Dr Shehata’s own story is relevant here.

My parents were immigrants and I’m first generation born in Australia. My Dad’s a chemist and he was thrilled that one of his two daughters was interested in the sciences. He always encouraged and supported my desire to study science, and more importantly to study biology.

I have a curious mind and I like to know how the body works, and why/when it goes wrong as in the case with cancer. My Dad used to say to me if you want to make change, you have to be in there with your ideas, your actions and your voice to make a difference.

Year 11 students on the 2018 Stonehouse Residential

Dr Shehata’s talk to students on the Stonehouse Residential will be about ‘Cancer – when good cells go bad.’

‘Cancer cells are normal cells that have lost their way. They’ve either acquired mutations and changed, received wrong signals, or they don’t know when to stop doing their normal activities. Most cells do what they’re doing and know when to rest. They stop. Cancer cells don’t stop,’ she said.

Her research involves collaboration with academics in Australia, the US and Canada. Together they are trying to understand what happens to turn a normal cell into a cancerous cell and how these cancerous cells survive when normally cells would switch off such activity.

Dr Shehata is funded by Trinity alumni Eashwar Krishnan and Tzo Tze Ang, support that she says enables her to investigate fundamental questions about breast cancer.

I was so fortunate to be awarded the Trinity Krishnan-Ang Senior Postdoctoral Researcher position, which is a fantastic opportunity – a real privilege.

The Stonehouse Residential is Trinity’s first multi-day programme for Year 11 students, enabled by alumnus Richard Stonehouse. This year’s event is fully booked but will run again next year as part of a series of residential events in Trinity’s access and outreach programme.

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