Dr Shelley Wickham wins Westpac Fellowship to study DNA origami

27 June 2018
Dr Wickham will build new tools made from DNA origami - tiny tweezers, spanners, wrenches and springs - to better understand blood clotting on nanosurfaces and ultimately design better materials.
Dr Shelley Wickham from Sydney Nano and the School of Chemistry. Photo: Flashpoint Labs

Dr Shelley Wickham from Sydney Nano and the School of Chemistry. Photo: Flashpoint Labs


A prestigious Westpac Research Fellowship announced today has been awarded to Dr Shelley Wickham from the University of Sydney Nano Institute and the School of Chemistry.

The two-year fellowship will support Dr Wickham pursue research on the self-assembly of matter at the nanoscale. Specifically, Dr Wickham is researching the relatively new field of ‘DNA origami’, which uses the folding capabilities of DNA strands to create nanoscale tools – tiny tweezers, spanners, wrenches and springs – and uses them to understand how cells work. This emerging field has application making new materials and in nanomedicine.

Dr Wickham is attempting to solve the issue of blood clotting on medical devices, such as artificial heart valves, by building new nanostructures out of DNA, to understand how clotting occurs. Blood clots are a leading cause of device failure and Dr Wickham’s research has the potential to benefit many Australians affected by heart disease.

“My research uses a bottom-up methodology to understand what happens on materials, such as artificial heart valves, at the nanoscale,” Dr Wickham said.

“This approach is combined with ‘top-down’ research testing new surfaces in microfluidic devices by Dr Anna Waterhouse at Sydney Nano and the Heart Research Institute. Together this is helping build a complete picture of this process, which will allow us to design new materials and processes to prevent the failure of these devices in people with heart disease.”

Dr Wickham will receive $379,302 in combined funding from Westpac Bicentennial Foundation and University of Sydney to cover her salary, research and professional development costs for two years.

She said: “This makes a huge difference to early-career researchers in Australia. To have job security at this career point is really enabling. It also gives young researchers the backing and skills to draw in other resources to benefit their work.”

The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Duncan Ivision, said: “We are proud to be a partner in the Westpac Research Fellowships and it is great to see Westpac collaborating with universities to support early-career researchers. This is wonderful additional support for Dr Wickham at a critical stage of her career. We are fortunate to have her at the University and as part of our Sydney Nano team.”

Westpac Bicentennial Foundation CEO, Susan Bannigan said: “We are thrilled to be working with our university partners to improve the opportunities for early career researchers. It is a great example of cross-sector collaboration to help advance Australia.”

Dr Shelley Wickham is the Professor Harry Messel research fellow with the schools of Physics and Chemistry. She was awarded a Bachelor and Master of Science from the University of Sydney before completing a PhD in condensed matter physics at the University of Oxford. She then took up a postdoctoral position at Harvard Medical School before returning to the University last year.

Applications for the 2019 Westpac Research Fellowships are now open.

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