Health & Wellbeing

New appointment a ‘home coming’

Published Apr 8, 2018

Dr Janice Cheng says she’s looking forward to bringing her expertise and experience “from both sides of the coin” to help other Victoria researchers bridge the gap between research and business in her new role as Viclink’s commercialisation manager. 

Taking up the role to support Viclink’s biochemistry portfolio earlier this year was like coming home for Janice. She had previously spent nearly 10 years studying and working at Victoria University’s Kelburn campus, after moving to New Zealand from Malaysia when she was 18 years old. 

“I pursued my undergraduate degree with honours in Biomedical Science, worked for the Malaghan Institute’s Immunoglycomics group for a year, which then inspired me to do a PhD in chemistry and immunology,” she says. 

Working under the supervision of Associate Professors Bridget Stocker and Mattie Timmer from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences (while also being part of the PhD programme at Malaghan Institute), Janice developed ‘glowing’ glycolipid adjuvants derived from marine sponges, for use in cancer immunotherapy. 

“My thesis focused on labelling the glycolipid with fluorescent dyes to understand how it interacted with immune cells and exert its anti-tumour effect. This information was vital to improving the effectiveness of the vaccine therapy.” 

With her work published in international scientific journals, Janice headed to Melbourne to work as a postdoctoral fellow on projects around antigen recognition under the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Advanced Molecular Imaging. 

During her three years in Melbourne, Janice worked on a tuberculosis (TB) project where she chemically synthesised lipids derived from the causative agent of TB, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and studied how the human immune system responds them. She also worked on a project to study the early events of T-cell receptor signalling in the context of lipid antigens. 

Janice was eager to make the most of Melbourne’s thriving science and technology commercialisation scene and joined a commercialisation bootcamp. “I’d always been curious about how research could be applied—particularly in the area of medicine—in a way that would have a positive impact on the world. So learning how to bring an early-stage research concept out of the lab and into the market was like fitting the final piece of the puzzle for me.” 

Janice says her initial interest in applied research was intensified during study, reasoning that: “if I was going to spend three years researching something, I needed an external driver that would keep me going when things got tough. Knowing that what I was working on could make a real difference to people’s lives kept me focused.”

Janice’s new role at Viclink doesn’t mean she leaves the lab behind altogether. 

“I get the best of both worlds in this role as I’m spending half of the week in the Viclink office, and the other half at the Ferrier Research Institute doing some benchwork with Professor Gavin Painter, who also specialises in glycolipids.” Janice is a familiar face to the Ferrier team already, having worked at the Institute on a summer internship during her period of study. 

Janice can be contacted by phone on +64 4 463 4769 or by emailing Janice.