Welcome to Pitch Your PhD – Shownotes

Season 1, Episode 5

Interleukin 18 with Jordyn Thomas

Dr Catherine Ball talked with Jordyn Thomas on her love of science and human bodies that leads to her landing a career in academia.

Hopefully one day people are able to use drugs that target interleukin 18 to improve kidney inflammation, improve their kidney function, hopefully, and, also reduce blood pressure…..  So hopefully one day we can use those to inhibit interleukin 18 and improve people’s cardiovascular disease.

On this week’s episode, Dr Catherine Ball chat with Jordyn Thomas, who recently submitted her PhD thesis at La Trobe University, on the close relations between the renal systems and hypertension…

This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words from this episode.

IT IS NOT 100% accurate.  We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly.  If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at mel@ramaley.media

PYP s1e5 Jordyn Thomas interview

Catherine: [00:00:00] Hi, and welcome to pitch your PhD. In this podcast, you will hear from PhD students from the past and the present to inspire the future. I’m your host, Dr. Catherine Ball. Listeners. You know, from time to time, we have to make a decision about what we’re going to do with our lives. Yes we do. But at times we’re not sure what we want to do, but if we listen to our passion, that will lead us to our decision, then we are setting our true north.

[00:00:26] Now I remember thinking that I wanted to do medicine, but actually, maybe it wasn’t going to be the right pathway for me. And I didn’t get in any way by a hair’s width. And I mentioned that pretty much every podcasts. But it’s because it was something that used to play on my mind and that I was trying to do something, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was.

[00:00:42] And from the area that I came from, medicine was just an automatic pathway. They would shove kids down that were bright, that were getting the grades that wanted to do something different and travel save the world, all those grandiose things and desires that we have. But ultimately I think I found that I’m a systems engineer.

[00:00:56] And I’m a social architect. And I think doing my PhD really helped [00:01:00] me cement, what it was that I wanted to do, which was, understand the world a little better and hopefully leave it in a better state than when I found it. And that’s how I guessed arrived at her decision on doing a PhD, her passion, and also a love of human bodies.

[00:01:14]Let me introduce you to our guests today. Jordyn Thomas, she’s a PhD candidate, very close to submitting her thesis. I’m really glad we’ve got her today because normally when you’re that close to submitting your thesis, the world disappears and you just have to focus in your little cave. So the last time we checked, you’re at Latrobe university and you’re almost, almost, almost done, Jordyn.

[00:01:32] So glad that you’re here with us today. As a child, Jordyn was bubbly and creative, always willing to give anything a try from plays, theaters, choirs, you name it. She was into it. We may have to ad lib some Shakespeare today, but a main factor throughout her life was her fascination with the human body. As young as 10 years old, she did a detailed project on lymph nodes, complete with how B-cells and T-cells work seriously impressive for a fifth grader.

[00:01:58]And so her love for [00:02:00] human bodies did not fade as she grew up and she decided to study biomedical science.

[00:02:05] And then that led her to an honors degree, studying the Inflammasome and how it works in hypertension, which I’m hoping I’m not going to give her during this interview. After finishing her honors degree, Jordyn was unsure what to do next. And when applying for different possible post-graduate programs, she applied to medical school, nursing, podiatry, occupational therapy.

[00:02:24] Unsure of what to do, but for all our applications, it was landing a scholarship to do a PhD that helped her make her decision. She’s found a real passion and a love for her research and her colleagues. And despite having applied for various postgraduate schools, she discovered that doing a PhD was the option that excited her the most.

[00:02:42] But first Jordyn, thank you for joining us today. How close actually are you in submitting your thesis at the moment?

[00:02:49] Jordyn: [00:02:49] I got the link today to submit it on Wednesday.

[00:02:53] Catherine: [00:02:53] Oh man. That’s like, well, two days time, how are you conscious? I just be in the corner vibrating. Like [00:03:00] I would just be lying down going feed me grapes, feed me fermented grapes. Like, how are you feeling?

[00:03:06]Jordyn: [00:03:06] Good. I made sure my supervisors were all happy with it before setting a date to get a link for it.

Catherine: [00:03:13] Well, done piece of advice I was given during my PhD was done is good. So well done. So you’re about to submit like within 48 hours, this is so exciting, but tell me, what is the title of your thesis and what is your research been about in a nutshell

[00:03:29]Jordyn: [00:03:29] So the title is defining the role of interleukin 18 in the renal inflammation leading to hypertension. But what all that means is that there’s a particular, signaling protein, that signals to our immune cells to get them all activated and excited and ready to attack things. And, when we’ve gotten rid of that in the context of hypertension, we see protection.

[00:03:53] So we really wanted to see, what happens next after we get rid of that,

[00:03:58] Catherine: [00:03:58] for those that are [00:04:00] listening that, say maybe you’re talking to your 10 year old self let’s break this down. What is the Inflammasome and what is hypertension and what on earth the kidneys have to do with cardiovascular disease?

[00:04:11]Jordyn: [00:04:11] That’s a really good question. so, the Inflammasome is this, Like a signaling platform, which is the fancy way to say it in the cell, but really it just, It responds to inflammatory stimuli, and then causes the production of, things in the body, which then go out and start inflammation.

[00:04:32] So it, takes like a bacterial message and then translates it to a message that our immune system can understand. and then in terms of the kidneys and hypertension, kidneys are really important in filtering out blood. but that means that the kidneys regulate how much liquid is in our blood, how much water is in the blood and how much salt is in the blood. So if you have kidney inflammation or kidney dysfunction, that means that you’ll, [00:05:00] you can end up with, more salt and more water in your blood. in the end, that can contribute to high blood pressure. And that’s where the hypertension part comes in because hypertension is high blood pressure.

[00:05:12]and the most simple way to talk about high blood pressure. It’s the force in which the blood hits your vessel walls.

Catherine: [00:05:19] So looking at your research, you’re obviously looking at cause and effect. So you’re looking at the Inflammasome and the cause in the kidneys and then the effect of that increased cardiovascular issue. how did you go into your studies to prove which way was real? Which one was the cause? And which one was the effect?

[00:05:34] Jordyn: [00:05:34] For the past two years, I’ve been working in the lab, with preclinical models of high blood pressure. So looking, in animals to see [00:06:00] whether inflammation, which is normally good for us, because it fights, bacteria viruses. to see if that causes us to have high blood pressure. And I think I found protein that does that. We were really lucky we could use. We could use animal models, where they don’t have interleukin 18, or they don’t have elements of the Inflammasome. So you can really pick out a cause and effect there because they don’t have, that part of their immune system.

[00:06:12] Catherine: [00:06:12] Hey so interesting because you know, a lot of people think of hypertension as purely being a cardiac issue

[00:06:17] so I’m sort of wondering how on earth did a person like yourself go from biomedical science.  Take us on that pathway from biomedical science through to actually studying something it’s such a, an individual molecular level, looking at the Inflammasome and then actually working out its relationship to cardiovascular disease.

[00:06:32] Jordyn: [00:06:33] So in the biomedical science course itself, you get the opportunity to just to study a heap of medical disciplines.  So whether that be physiology, or anatomy, so the structures of the body or, immunology or pharmacology, which is all the science of drugs. so we kind of learnt about molecular processes throughout Biomedical science with the opportunity to decide what we were really interested in in [00:07:00] our third year.

[00:07:01] So in third year we just got delivered one core subject, which was very molecular. and then we got to choose our passion areas and the main subjects that I chose were physiology subjects. So I did, cardiovascular physiology and also pharmacology subjects. which really interested me. And then, also within that final year, one of our. assessments was to meet up with a lab head and I was interested in, cardiovascular disease and how drugs work. So I looked at the pharmacology department, looked at who was interested in cardiovascular diseases and found, Grant, my nice supervisor and we had a chat about his career and, what he’d done to get to his position, which was lab head and associate professor at the time. and from there, I kind of maintained contact with Grant throughout the year. Um, and when it came time to do an honors project, I had to talk to him. And he had a [00:08:00] really interesting project looking at how the bacteria in our gut could regulate hypertension.

[00:08:06]so I was initially interested in that. I applied for that and I was lucky enough to get in. and then I came back from summer holidays and Grant sat  me down and said, look, we can’t do that project anymore. we’ve got this project looking at the Inflammasome in the kidneys and then hypertension and, we’d like you to look at interleukin 18.

[00:08:28]so that’s kind of where biomed got me to working on interleukin 18 in the kidney.

[00:08:34]Catherine: [00:08:34] so a lot of people, both in Australia and across the world, you tend to have to go bachelor’s honors masters, and then PhD. But for you, it was straight from honors to PhD studying effectively the same subject. Tell us about that journey. How did you go from, okay. This sounds like a really interesting honors project to actually going crumbs. Okay. Let’s do this PhD.

[00:08:51] Like was the funding already there was it something that was naturally going to be a project that continued or was it because it was you studying it, that they wanted you to continue in the lab on that project?

[00:08:59]Jordyn: [00:08:59] I [00:09:00] think it was the latter there that, I’ve been working on that initially. And, had gotten quite a solid honors project behind me, but we realized that there was a lot that we could do in a PhD to really elevate that project and like, really get down to the nitty gritty of it. what cells are producing interleukin 18 or what is interleukin 18 actually acting on?

[00:09:22] So there’s  a lot more scope in  the project than we probably initially realized when I was starting honours.

[00:09:29] Catherine: [00:09:29] So, what kind of obstacles have you been up against? Because we’ve had a recurring theme through a number of people that we’ve interviewed about that their PhD really only happened because they made a connection with a person. It was an email that was sent that was of interest, or it was a person like yourself looking for an honours project. It was a person that they’d identified was an expert in their field and they reached out and found it. So what kind of obstacles have you come up against when you were trying to figure out and then did the PhDs fall in your lap or was it something that you knew you wanted to do?

[00:09:57]Jordyn: [00:09:57] I had made contact with a few supervisors, [00:10:00] I guess, who had areas that I was interested in. but none of their projects really grabbed me. I think the main obstacle to getting to do the project that I’m doing now is that we didn’t have the resources to do the initial project that I was interested in.

[00:10:16]however, I’m really glad that I’ve taken on this project now. and I kind of didn’t necessarily go into my honors year thinking that I would do a PhD project, because I was initially, more interested in working in a patient setting, but, I’ve really loved what I experienced during my honors year and the project that I was doing. And that really led me to continue.

[00:10:40] Catherine: [00:10:40] Okay. with your studies that you’ve done,  what are some of the real world applications of understanding the inflammasome and its role with regards to the kidney aspects of hypertension? What, what will someone gain from your work public?

[00:10:53] Jordyn: [00:10:53] obviously, all my research has been very basic level, research, preclinical research, but [00:11:00] hopefully one day people are able to use drugs that target interleukin 18 to improve kidney inflammation, improve their kidney function, hopefully, and, also reduce blood pressure. there are already, drugs out there that are being trialed for the Inflammasone itself. So hopefully one day we can use those to  inhibit interleukin 18 and improve people’s, cardiovascular disease.

[00:11:25]Catherine: [00:11:25] So as we look at population here in Australia, that is both increasing in obesity and also an aging population, the need for this kind of medical advances is quite significant. One might suggest, so is this why you’re continuing your study?

[00:11:41]Jordyn: [00:11:41] Yes. So one of the reasons that I’m so drawn to this area is that we currently don’t have any therapeutics that target inflammation specifically in cardiovascular diseases. A lot of them look at hormones involved in cardiovascular disease, and they’re only starting to develop anti [00:12:00] inflammatory treatments, for what wasn’t considered a traditionally inflammatory disease.

[00:12:04] Catherine: [00:12:04] So what has been sort of the hardest moment for you during this PhD journey?

[00:12:10]Jordyn: [00:12:10] I think that, a lot of the setbacks to do with tight timing have been really challenging for me during my PhD. and. A little bit of imposter syndrome around that. So I found it really challenging to see like a year or a year and a half out from putting my thesis together. I really couldn’t see that I had enough to complete a PhD.

[00:12:34]but I had to talk to my supervisor and he assured me, he was like, no, no, you’ve got a really solid foundation. and also some of the setbacks with timing had been really difficult, to overcome. So when I started my PhD, my lab had just moved from Monash to La Trobe . So there was all, um, like the lab set up that took a really long time to get through. There was a lot of training that La Trobe  required that I’d already [00:13:00] completed at Monash, but I had to do to be up to date with what they did. and then throughout I’ve had, like, I use, obviously use an animal model to be able to study the immune system and high blood pressure. And when that animal model doesn’t work the way that you I anticipate it will. And there are ethics and vets and everything involved in that process. it can take quite a while to resolve, also with the pandemic last year and not being able to go into the lab to complete the final experiments for me to be able to finish my PhD has been probably the biggest challenge.

[00:13:39] Catherine: [00:13:39] on this journey, you’ve obviously had support from a number of people identifying a decent supervisor bit for an honors project or a PhD is gold. Right. But who else have you had support you on this journey? Who else has been your heroes to get to where you are, which is two days off submitting your thesis, which is fabulous.

[00:13:55] Jordyn: [00:13:55] Some of my main heroes have actually been the other PhD students [00:14:00] that, have been  in my cohort. I’ve gotten to know quite a few of them through, we formed like a PhD student committee within our department and put on events for other students. So I initially met them through that, but really developed closer friendships with them, um, during the lockdowns and COVID, 19 pandemic by doing shut up and bright sessions with them.

[00:14:22]we all had coffee, catch-ups over zoom. and towards the end of last year. And this year we formed a really tight support network to help each other and encourage each other. And, um, even, Yeah.

[00:14:36]Let each other know about opportunities that are out there, outside of the normal PhD work, which has been really lovely.

[00:14:42] Catherine: [00:14:42] So what’s been the most fun. What have you enjoyed the most of doing a PhD?

[00:14:46]Jordyn: [00:14:46] I really enjoyed the people that I’ve gotten to meet. I think that kind of, Shines through my introduction because my colleagues have been really fantastic to work with.

[00:14:56]The culture inside my lab has been, Instrumental in my [00:15:00] PhD success. Everyone’s really happy to chat to everyone to help each other out and collaborate to get work done and to answer the questions that they’re so passionate about.

[00:15:12] And then the people I’ve developed friendship with, or the, more senior people that I’ve had the chance to interact with and talk about things that impact, academia, but also be able to, have friendships with people outside of that has been really lovely.

[00:15:29] Catherine: [00:15:29] Okay. So a few people that we’ve talked to have talked about their global opportunities and the fact they’ve traveled quite a lot with their studies. So where have you traveled and what has that kind of brought to your studies?

[00:15:39] Jordyn: [00:15:39] Um, so I got the chance really early on in my PhD to go to America and to present at experimental biology, which was a huge conference, for a first year PhD student. And it really opened my eyes to, what research people are doing in the world.

Catherine: [00:15:55] So you’re about to submit your thesis when you pass your exams and you’ve passed your [00:16:00] thesis. What’s next? Are you going into industry? Pharmacology?

[00:16:02] Are you staying on as a post-doc? We’ve got lots of opportunities in front of you. What have you got lined up?

[00:16:07] Jordyn: [00:16:07] So, um, I’m moving on to do a postdoc at Monash with the new lab head  over there and we’re going to be looking at how inflammation affects vascular disease rather than the kidney disease part of cardiovascular disease.

[00:16:21]Catherine: [00:16:21] So going forwards into your postdoc. Now, obviously you couldn’t do that without your PhD. But why did you stay in the academic space? Why didn’t you just go into industry or into one of the other options that were in front of you? What was it about the PhD that really sparked an interest over the other?

[00:16:36]Jordyn: [00:16:36] I really loved, having that one scientific question and then being able to delve really deep into that question, and to ask more questions. And I think that’s why I chose to do a post doc, because that was where I could see being able to do that.

[00:16:53]Catherine: [00:16:53] So being in pure research is quite interesting because like 95% of PhD students do not stay in academia. So [00:17:00] you’re going to be part of that sort of 5% of people that sort of go, I have found it. This is my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. I have discovered the joy of science and this is what I want to study going forwards.

[00:17:11] Can you tell us a little bit about how that makes you feel what is it? What does it meant for you?

[00:17:17] Jordyn: [00:17:17] I feel really excited waking up in the morning and knowing that I’m doing research.

[00:17:22]I found, you know, an area that I’m really passionate in, cardiovascular disease, and I love the research that I’m doing towards that area.

[00:17:31] Catherine: [00:17:31] what’s your ultimate goal then once you’ve got your first postdoc under your belt, then you get your second postdoc under your belt.  What’s, the ultimate aim for you. Do you want to stay in academia? Do you want to work in industry in the pharmaceutical industry?

[00:17:41]Jordyn: [00:17:41] for the moment I see myself staying in academia. but it, yeah, it depends.

[00:17:47]Catherine: [00:17:47] So, in terms of your personal growth, so you started, you know, with a bit of impostor syndrome, you weren’t sure you were applying all over the shop, shotgunning your career opportunities, basically. What has this PhD given you [00:18:00] that you have now that you didn’t have when you were at the start of the process?

[00:18:04] Jordyn: [00:18:04] I think that completing my PhD has given me more belief that I can do the next thing that comes my way and overcome the next challenge that I’m faced with. Because if I can do this then surely I can do that.

[00:18:19] Catherine: [00:18:19] wonderful. Okay. So if I was to say to you, um, you know, you’re 10 years old or 12 years old, or, you know, maybe even younger, what advice would you give yourself? I mean, you’ve actually gone through a big hunt to try and find your true north. Do you feel that you’ve got your true north now? Or what advice would you give to yourself to get to this point? of happiness This pre-submission happiness that you’re in right now. .

[00:18:40]Jordyn: [00:18:40] my advice would be to give yourself time to, Think about what you want to do and, to make your decisions about life. Because I feel like I’ve always rushed through everything, jumping from one thing to the next, and then having a little bit of anxiety when I’m coming to the end of something and don’t know what to do next. And I [00:19:00] realized that I really need to give myself that time to go, Okay. this is what I want, rather than just going full speed.

[00:19:07]Catherine: [00:19:07] So let’s go, let’s go. Say 10 years into the future. Where do you see yourself?

[00:19:13]Jordyn: [00:19:13] in the future, I still see myself, researching  cardiovascular disease, because it’s an area that I’m really passionate about and hopefully, see myself. As, middle career research having gotten some grants and hopefully in that time I will have a family.

[00:19:31] Catherine: [00:19:32] Totally absolutely possible. I love it. Thank you so much for talking to us today, Jordyn. It’s just so wonderful to grab this time whilst you are literally about to submit your thesis because you’re in this wonderful liminal phase. I love the fact you’ve already got a postdoc before you even submitted that’s technically not correct. Cause you’re not postdoc yet. Right. but it’s been wonderful to chat with you today to hear about all your passion and the process and the way you got there. And to hear that you’ve had such a wonderful lab culture.  Thank you so much for taking the time and I can’t [00:20:00] wait to hear and see what else do you get up to? And, you know, when you hit that submit button is better than passing survivor.  it’s like, angels are singing. celebrate the good times. Jordyn. Congratulations on getting through your PhD journey.

[00:20:12] Jordyn: [00:20:12] Thank you so much, Catherine.