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Star Scientist 
of the Month

"I’m really excited about the work we are doing now with this therapeutic preventative treatment."

April's Star Scientist, Tanya Solomon, is driven by the experimental process of scientific discovery, and being involved in translational research that makes an impact. 

Tanya Solomon

Congratulations on your nomination as Star Scientist of the month! How long have you worked with Professor Livia Hool?

I have worked with Professor Livia Hool for around two and a half years as a research assistant in the Cardiovascular Electrophysiology Lab at the University of Western Australia. I am working on multiple projects and assisting with administrative tasks within the lab. 

What are you currently working on?

One of the projects is the therapeutic prevention of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic cardiovascular disease that could affect up to one in 200 people. The heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, causing the heart to become dangerously enlarged. This can then lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death, with no obvious symptoms or warning. 

Currently, there are only drugs available to manage the symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, however, there are no therapies to prevent or stop the disease progression. 

Using mouse models, we’ve previously found there are alterations in metabolic activity which occur prior to the development of the disease’s characteristic features (such as heart muscle thickening and stiffening). We have recently developed a peptide that restores disruptions to metabolic activity in heart cells. We are now using this peptide to determine whether restoring the disrupted metabolic activity will slow down the progression of the disease. 

The next steps after treatment are to assess cardiovascular parameters to see whether the peptide has actually assisted in preventing the progression of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The treatment regime and post-treatment assessments should take around one to two years. 

If it can go through that stage into clinical trials in humans, then we could see this become a therapeutic treatment for the prevention of the disease. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of. I really feel like I’m making a difference being in the translational science field because you can see the real-world implications of the research.

Have you always been interested in a career in science? 

I have always known I wanted to help people but initially, I wanted to be a psychologist and I started out undertaking a psychology degree. During that time, I did a neuroscience subject in which we had to design a research project, including the experimental design, and I really loved that research aspect right from the moment I got my first taste of it. That’s when I went into neuroscience. 

What led you to heart research?

I had been volunteering in neuroscience labs and was looking for something more permanent and was lucky enough to be offered this role by Professor Hool. 

Tanya Solomon & Professor Livia Hool

It’s such an important research area. Cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death in Australia and around the world, so it was such an amazing opportunity to be offered a role in that area.

Transitioning from a neuroscience background to cardiovascular research was definitely a learning curve. But it’s been a good one and it’s been really interesting. There was so much I needed to learn, so I just threw myself into reading and immersing myself in the lab and everything I needed to know about cardiovascular disease. 

Have you ever considered undertaking a PhD? 

Personally, I don’t feel like a PhD is the right path for me. There are a variety of different ways you can go into science and while there are advantages in having a PhD qualification, there are definitely other pathways you can take. 

One day I might decide to do one but for now I am really happy with where I am at in my career.

You’re originally from Sydney; what brought you to WA? 

I moved from Sydney to Perth about 13 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I love the beaches. And I love that it is a bit more laid back and relaxed. It doesn’t have the same hustle and bustle of Sydney and for me, that’s a good thing. There’s nothing quite like watching the sunset over Cottesloe Beach.

What are some of the challenges facing WA specifically in cardiovascular disease and why is it so important to have dedicated heart research hubs in WA?

We face unique cardiovascular health issues here in WA. 

There is a large population of Indigenous Australians who face different cardiovascular risks and issues compared to non-indigenous Australians. In my opinion, the evaluation of Indigenous Australian cardiovascular health outcomes is an important area of research, and vital in closing the gap in health between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. 

WA is also a geographically isolated state which presents its own challenges. Ensuring that remote regions receive access to healthcare is important because people living in remote or rural areas are twice as likely to need hospitalisation and 40% more likely to die from heart disease than those living in cities. 

Because of these unique cardiovascular health issues, I think it's important to have more research hubs of cardiovascular disease here in WA.

Recently, Prof Hool helped to develop WACRA which is the West Australian Cardiovascular Research Alliance. WACRA has been an important tool in bringing together WA cardiovascular researchers’ from across the pipeline including preclinical and public health through to clinical trials. 

One of the main aims of this research alliance is to promote collaborative efforts in cardiovascular disease research, accelerating translation and improving health outcomes for all Western Australians. It’s a great initiative.

Would you describe Professor Livia Hool as a mentor? 

Yes, definitely. Professor Hool has been a wonderful role model and mentor. She is a real testament to where hard work and persistence can get you. She really believes in the research we are doing, and she encourages really good quality lab practices. 

Professor Livia Hool in action

What’s it like being a woman in science

Unintentionally, our lab is a mostly female lab. It’s so inspiring and I really feel like our lab is representing women in research and in the scientific community. 

Do you have any advice for young women looking into a career in science? 

You can achieve anything you want in life by hard work and persistence. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and stand up for yourself. Be brave and take whatever opportunities you can. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes either – this is honestly the best way of learning, growing, and developing as a scientist. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries were made by accident.

What do you love about working in science?

There’s lots of things I love about working in science; I think it’s fun! You get to discover things, find out why things work and don’t work, and you get to be creative designing experiments. Working in science also means you are constantly learning new things – there is always new information and new techniques to learn, which keeps things interesting. 

What’s a proud moment for you in your career so far? 

I had a really big moment last year; I published my first author paper, 'Preventative therapeutic approaches for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy'' in The Journal of Physiology. I think that’s a really big milestone as a researcher. It was an article reviewing the research on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (animal studies and human clinical trials), the therapeutics that are currently available, and how targeting the underlying mechanisms as opposed to symptoms is important for designing preventative therapeutics.  

What about when you aren’t at work, what do you like to do in your free time? 

I really love being creative, anything to do with arts and crafts. So, I’ll be painting, sketching, macramé or recently I’ve started making polymer clay earrings which is cool! 

I enjoy exercising as well, particularly running. I’m training to do a half marathon at the moment! I’ve done 12 and 15KM runs before but this is my first half marathon. Who knows, maybe one day a full marathon.

Other than that, I love to travel and immersing myself in a completely different culture, and learning all about the history, the art, the food, and the values of a place. I have been so fortunate to go to some amazing spots, like the Galapagos Islands. I visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre which was cool. I’ve also been to Jamaica, Cuba, and Brazil. Next, I would love to go to Canada and French Polynesia as well to visit my sister. She is living there with her partner on a boat, they have been sailing to different places around the world for the past few years now.

What are you excited about for the future? 

I’m really excited about the work we are doing now with this therapeutic preventative treatment for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It’s such a huge milestone to be a part of, being able to see that translatable aspect of research. I’m really excited to see it going out into the world, helping people and making a difference. 

Learn more about the Cardiovascular Electrophysiology Laboratory in WA
Read more stories from behind the discoveries