Lisa Mielke

veski inspiring women career recovery grant recipient

Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and La Trobe University.

A veski inspiring women career recovery grant is awarded to Dr Lisa Mielke, Head of the Mucosal Immunology and Cancer Laboratory at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) and La Trobe University.

Improving outcomes for the second leading cause of cancer death in Australia

As an expert in immune cell biology and dietary metabolites in intestinal homeostasis and gastrointestinal cancers, Dr Mielke’s research focuses on understanding immune cell development and function in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). The epithelial cells lining the GIT make up the largest mucosal surface of the body. This barrier to the external environment is constantly exposed to dietary and microbial agents. The epithelial barrier function is maintained by immune cells, known as intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs), which sense cellular stress and recognise microbial agents. However, the role of IELs in regulating cancer progression in the GIT remains unknown.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) or bowel cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Australia, with approximately 15,000 new cases and 5,300 deaths per year. Dr Mielke’s work aims to uncover the role of IELs in cancer progression and to develop better strategies to boost their ability to limit cancer progression. Enabling immune cells to join the fight against CRC to enhance tumour cell killing and limit metastasis will further improve patient outcomes.

Funding from veski will support Dr Mielke’s lab to regain momentum. In 2020, after returning from parental leave, the expansion of her laboratory with a post-doctoral researcher and PhD student was halted by COVID-19, and international recruits were unable to come to Australia. Finding alternatives, including a new postdoctoral researcher, significantly delayed progress, and COVID-19 restrictions further reduced available working hours.

Supporting women in STEM in regional areas

Dr Mielke gained her PhD at the National Institutes of Health in the United States, completing postdoctoral studies at Trinity College, Dublin and the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), Melbourne. A Victorian Cancer Agency Fellow, Dr Mielke maintains honorary appointments at WEHI, the University of Melbourne, and La Trobe University.

Since joining ONJCRI, Dr Mielke has initiated career building activities for students and established the ONJCRI’s Equity and Diversity Committee. She has been an invited speaker at a variety of forums, including in 2018 when the Pasteur International Network invited her to present a series of lectures at the Institute Pasteur of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.

As an honouree of Superstars of STEM, Dr Mielke has participated in forums to engage with young women to encourage them to study and develop their science careers. Having grown up in Gippsland, she has experienced the disadvantages faced by people in rural areas, especially young women. She has worked with the Order of Australia Association to provide opportunities for young women in rural areas and participated in programs supporting women in STEM such as the L’Oreal Girls in Science Forum.

Lisa is a member of the veski connected community.