Melanie Hutton is a microbiologist with a passion for understanding infectious disease and is making an impact through her research which could lead to thousands of lives being saved across the globe.
GHG: Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand with my parents and a younger sister. When I was 11 years old, we moved to Melbourne, Australia where I attended high school and University. Living in New Zealand as a child has definitely given me a taste for adventure, as I love spending time outdoors, particularly camping, bushwalking and 4WDing.
GHG: Why did you choose your career in medical research?
I chose medical research as I get to constantly learn new things and I find the work exciting and challenging. I strive to help improve public health by understanding how bacteria cause disease so that new vaccines and treatments can be developed. I think this passion evolved further when I spent some time touring Eastern Africa and saw firsthand how people suffer from infectious diseases.
GHG: Tell us about your current role and how you came to be working there.
In high school I loved biology. It was my favourite subject and it led me to choosing to do a Bachelor of Science at Monash University. As part of this degree I studied microbiology and genetics and discovered a passion for infectious disease. I decided to further my education by completing honours and a PhD at Monash University and Monash Institute of Medical Research, studying how the human pathogen, Helicobacter pylori, is able to interact with host cells to cause disease.
Following my PhD, I began working in my current role, as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology. I am involved in developing a new product that can be used to prevent and treat Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections, the most common cause of bacterial-induced, antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in hospitals in the developed world. Another aspect of my job that I really enjoy is to educate high school students about the importance of vaccination and how vaccines are developed. I think this is a critical aspect of public health and feel very strongly about promoting the importance of vaccination.
GHG: Can you tell us about some of your achievements and what has been the most rewarding thing about working in this field?
My largest achievement so far is to complete my PhD studies and then apply my knowledge to teach other students as well as to perform research that has resulted in a patent on a new prevention and treatment for C. difficile infections.
This has probably been the most rewarding thing about working in medical research – taking a potential new treatment for C. difficile infections and show that it works, not only as a treatment, but also for prevention of disease. Seeing this product being taken forward into human clinical trials and knowing, that if it is successful, it could save thousands of lives worldwide, has been extremely fulfilling and makes the hard work all the more worthwhile.
GHG: What inspires you in this role?
I find many things inspiring in medical research. The first is that I get to attend conferences and listen to other researchers speak about the progress they are making in combating various different human diseases, from infectious diseases to cancer, to autoimmune disease. I am inspired when I see how much persistence and determination it takes to spend years in research so that a disease can be better understood and hopefully, a new treatment developed that will save lives. Finally I love teaching the younger generations of students and researchers and watching how their passion for research develops.
GHG: What did you find most challenging?
The thing that I find most challenging with medical research is the strength of mind and perseverance required to optimise experiments and obtain results. Sometimes you will have to perform the same experiments over and over again, changing a single parameter each time, until you get a result.
GHG: What is the biggest change you would like to be able to bring about through your career?
I dream of making a difference to the world by contributing to the development of new treatments for infectious diseases, or more importantly, new vaccines. Seeing the research we perform in the laboratory translated into human clinical trials, and ultimately, products that can be used worldwide to treat or prevent disease, is what I aspire to and what keeps me driven to perform medical research. By increasing our understanding of how certain bacteria cause disease, we may also pave the way for others to design novel drugs to combat disease.
GHG: Please recommend any interesting websites that you would like to share.
Melanie Hutton, pictured above, in her role as a post-doctoral fellow at Monash University’s Department of Microbiology.