Mater Researcher Jen Stables is inspiring the next generation of Queensland women in STEM

Friday 14 July 2023

At Mater Research, we celebrate extraordinary women who push boundaries and break barriers to turn scientific discoveries into new treatments and models of care for patients and our broader community.

We are delighted to announce that Mater Researcher, Jen Stables, a final year PhD student in the Macrophage Biology Research Group was a finalist in both the Judges’ Award and the Breaking Barriers Award at the 2023 Queensland Women in STEM Prize awards ceremony. The Prize recognises Queensland women who make an outstanding contribution in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and inspires women and girls to get involved.

Attending the Award Ceremony last night, Jen said it was inspiring to meet other finalists and hear about all of the incredible work her fellow women in STEM are doing throughout Queensland.

“I am honoured to have been chosen as a finalist. I will use this to further nurture diversity in STEM and inspire the next generation of women in STEM,” Jen said.

Jen is passionate about improving access to STEM opportunities and encouraging and inspiring people from all walks of life, especially women, to consider a career in STEM.

“I aspire to set a good example and be the role model and mentor I didn’t have when starting out in STEM. I am one of many willing to share my experiences and offer guidance and support, and I hope I can continue to inspire young women interested in science and research,” Jen said.

“I am a Young Science Ambassador for Wonder of Science and I feel privileged to be able to work with students and contribute to building the next generation of researchers.

“I am particularly passionate about reducing geographical barriers faced by students who live in rural and regional Queensland and making STEM opportunities accessible for all, and I love travelling to communities all over the state where I volunteer to give Queensland school children a hands-on science experience.”

Jen’s research project at Mater Research focuses on dementia, which is the leading cause of death for Australian women.

“At present, no form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease, has a cure, or even medication to slow down the progress of the disease. No new drug therapies have been approved in Australia for over 20 years and the few drugs that are prescribed provide minimal benefit.

“Because of this, it is imperative that biomedical scientists and researchers like me work to uncover the causes of dementia and develop novel treatments to stop cognitive decline.”

Our likelihood of developing dementia is normally determined by our genetics and environmental factors that influence our health, like diet and exercise, however Jen’s research is innovative, as it focuses on a type of dementia that occurs due to a mutation in a very specific gene – our microglia.

“Microglia are otherwise known as the brain’s support and immune cells. This mutation seems to stop them from working properly and leads to the death of our thought-creating neurons. Unfortunately, nobody knows what goes wrong with the microglia to cause the neuronal death, and I’m working to uncover this.

“If we can discover this, then we will have identified new therapeutic targets that could stop ALL dementias in their tracks,” Jen said.

Jen has faced many barriers, including living with a rare autoinflammatory disease called Behcet's Disease, which results in inflamed blood vessels throughout her body.

“To keep my disease under control, I have to be on multiple medications, one of which has led to osteoporosis. During my studies I had numerous stress fractures in my feet on top of trying to keep my autoinflammatory disease under control. I have learnt to manage this while continuing to succeed in my career and remain driven to enhancing medical research and outcomes for the community,” Jen said.

Jen believes that sharing her experiences is important, as it provides a tangible example for other students of challenges which can be overcome.

“I hope other young women are inspired by my perseverance and commitment to pursuing a STEM career despite the barriers I’ve faced and can see that diversity and inclusion are valued within STEM.”

Congratulations on being chosen as a finalist, Jen!

To learn more about Mater Research’s Macrophage Biology Research Group, please click here.