Dr Angelica Merlot
8 March 2019

To celebrate International Women’s Day, NHMRC would like to acknowledge leading female researchers who are working to make a real difference to the health of all Australians.

University of New South Wales | 2016 | $318,769

Peter Doherty Biomedical Early Career Fellowship

One of these inspirational young researchers is Dr Angelica Merlot, a cancer researcher at the University of New South Wales and the Children’s Cancer Institute, and a winner for the 2019 NSW Young Woman of the Year award.

‘Women represent roughly half of the population and need to be represented in the workforce. Gender diversity in the workplace makes it more dynamic,’ Dr Merlot said.

This year’s International Women’s Day calls for a more gender-balanced world and although we see that women make up 65% of academics in medical sciences and health at the junior level, the proportion of women decreases to 32% at the senior levels.1

“It is great to see that NHMRC recognises this disparity and has identified supporting equality in funded rates by gender as a key strategic objective under its Gender Equality Strategy (2018-2021)”, she said.

In 2016, Dr Merlot received a Peter Doherty NHMRC Early Career Fellowship, a fellowship that provides training in the field of biomedical science.

‘Embarking on a research career is not easy but nothing worthwhile ever is. It requires lots of hard work and determination but having the ability to discover and make a difference for not only your own community but people across Australia and globally, is really rewarding,’ she said.

‘The funding has really allowed me to progress my career. It’s allowed me to support my own ideas, design my own projects, grow my independence and develop my own research team. I’m really grateful that I’ve had NHMRC’s support.

‘I look at understanding the ways cancers grow and spread—how they adapt to their environment, how they become resistant to treatment, and how to stop this by developing new targets or medicines.

‘Specifically, I’m looking at the endoplasmic reticulum, an organelle in the cell responsible for protein folding. This vital cell part has a role in cancer progression. We are looking at how it’s involved in inducing pro-survival cancer pathways and how we can stop these pathways,’ she explained.

Dr Merlot works with some of the deadliest cancers, including pancreatic and brain cancers. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, pancreatic cancer claimed the lives of around 3000 people in 20182, and brain cancer kills more children in Australia than any other disease.[3]

‘Seeing first hand some of the impacts cancer had on my family and community really pushed me into the field. Their stories and their struggles really motivate me,’ she said.

‘What I love about being a researcher is having the ability use your imagination and curiosity to delve into problems and to constantly discover new things. It is so exciting to get a breakthrough knowing that you can potentially save lives. It is really amazing.’

‘The most amazing thing is that this is my job and what I get to do for a living,’ she added.


2 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-compendium-information-trends-by-cancer/report-contents/pancreatic-cancer3Australian

Bureau of Statistics (published 2012 – 2016), 3303.0 Causes of Death, Australia (2011 – 2015),  'Table 1.3: Underlying cause of death, Selected causes by age at death, numbers and rates, Australia, Ages 1 – 14 (2011 – 2015).