Jessica Holien

veski inspiring women career recovery grant recipient

RMIT University

A veski inspiring women career recovery grant is awarded to Dr Jessica Holien, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the School of Science, STEM College, RMIT University.

Identifying new drug targets in the fight against ovarian cancer

Dr Holien is a researcher in biotechnology and drug discovery with a focus on identifying and targeting cancerous protein cells. She is an expert in computational molecular modelling with a particular interest in designing modulators of protein-protein interactions.

Dr Holien’s current work investigates mucinous ovarian carcinoma (MOC), a distinct subtype of ovarian cancer. While current first-line treatment for this carcinoma does not differ from conventional ovarian chemotherapies, it responds poorly to them, and patients at Stages III/IV generally have a median overall survival of less than 15 months. Dr Holien’s current research creates complex protein-protein interaction networks between MOC cells and healthy cells, with the goal of identifying proteins that have potential as targets for the development of new drugs and treatments.

Now at a stage where her research requires substantial ‘wet-laboratory’ work, Dr Holien has recruited additional post-doctoral support. Funding from veski will enable Dr Holien’s team to complete work necessary to validate her novel bioinformatic methods, which will support publication of peer-reviewed research and further growth of Dr Holien’s laboratory at RMIT University.

Unfortunately, Dr Holien’s lab work had not commenced prior to Melbourne’s ‘hard lockdown’ in 2020, which meant her team did not access research facilities until well into 2021. In addition to these challenges, COVID-19 restrictions impacted Dr Holien’s ability to focus on her work given her carer responsibilities as the mother of primary school aged children.

Breaking down science gender stereotypes

Prior to joining RMIT, Dr Holien was Team Leader in Structural Bioinformatics and Drug Discovery at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) and, before that, held two Postdoctoral Fellowships, a Cure Cancer Australia / Leukaemia Foundation Early Career Postdoctoral Fellowship and 5-Point Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, both held at SVI. Dr Holien completed her doctoral studies in Medicinal Chemistry at Monash University where she also completed a Graduate Certificate in Commercialising Science.

With a passion for promoting science to the community, Dr Holien regularly engages in science communication and promotion activities. Since 2014, Dr Holien has been a STEM Professional in the CSIRO Scientists in Schools Program, regularly engaging at schools around Melbourne. She prioritises breaking down science gender stereotypes to be a role model for young women interested in STEM.

Dr Holien is active in building diversity in her field and leads a working group to build a Diversity and Inclusion arm for the Victorian Branch of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. She has served on numerous committees including the Melbourne Protein Group (current); Victorian Department of Health and Human Services Premier’s Award and Medical Research Future Fund Committee; St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research Seminar Committee; and was a Board Director for the Australian Society of Medical Research.

Jessica has actively participated in the veski inspiring women’s program as a STEMsidebyside participant in 2018 and is a member of the veski connected community.