veski's portraits of innovation

Springboarding into a slam-dunk for science

Seth Masters doesnt like small talk. He says it dies away quickly. He’s at his happiest when talking science because he has a genuine interest in the nuts and bolts of the body of knowledge that can be rationally explained and reliably applied.

With height and agility on his side, he’s also happy playing five-a-side on a basketball court. Every Thursday night, without fail, he can be found scoring a few baskets at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatics Centre in Albert Park.

He plays in a team called NBT – short for Not Bad Thanks – not to be confused with NLR which is a family of innate immune receptors known as Nod-Like Receptors and a particular focus for Seth’s lab.

Seth’s team competes in a relatively little known league called the Business Houses Association Tournament.

“It’s a fathers-and-sons’ competition, taking players from Melbourne’s highest echelons, including builders and concreters,” Seth says wryly. “Some players are 60 years of age and older and play above themselves,” he says.

Seth takes it seriously and, for his trouble, has won two championships, two summers in a row – not bad for someone who has just come home from a place where hurling and Gaelic football share the mantle as the country’s national sports.

Seth returned from Dublin to join the newly formed Inflammation Division as a Laboratory Head at Melbourne’s Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI).

He came back to Victoria with his partner, Dr Lisa Mielke, who works as a postdoctoral researcher in the Molecular Immunology division at WEHI.

Seth made his home in Melbourne again in order to run a lab which conducts analysis of cellular pathways, identifying the underlying parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation in diseases like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.

When Seth took up his veski innovation fellowship in early 2012, he “knew it was going to be a wonderful thing”. He says the veski funding, which can be spent broadly, “makes life easier when you’re trying to set up and make new contacts. It’s a springboard to survive.”

Seth likes the fact that veski functions provide an opportunity to see colleagues, such as Matt and Melissa Call and Ross Dickins and to further his knowledge base.

“It was humbling to be included among amazing scientists,” he says.

With several years having passed since returning to Australia, the former philosophy student says the focus of his fellowship has changed.

“I’m really good at and interested in basic fundamental discoveries, which is high risk. I am focused on science that is informative. I’m in it for the long-game: ten to 20 years from now.”