Dr Yee Lian Chew, ‘the worm lady’, uses the roundworm C. elegans to study how neurochemical signals in the nervous system work together to coordinate complex behaviours. An NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow, Yee Lian uses C. elegans – one millimetre long with only 300 neurons, yet 80% genetically identical to humans – to identify neurochemical signalling pathways that can be targeted for treatment of neurological conditions such as chronic pain. An early career academic, Yee Lian earned her BSc (2010) and PhD (2015) from the University of Sydney. In 2015, she moved to Cambridge UK to study worms in colder weather, at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. She returned to Australia in 2019 as a teaching-research academic at the University of Wollongong and is currently a Mary Overton Senior Research Fellow at Flinders University.
Outside the joy of experiments, Yee Lian is a budding science communicator. She has given public lectures at National Science Week, run a children’s outreach program at the Cambridge Science Festival, recorded a podcast, and filmed an Elevator Pitch for ABC Science. She is now part of the 2021-2022 cohort of Superstars of STEM, a program run by Science & Technology Australia to promote the profile of women STEM professionals. Currently the Chair of the EMCR Forum Executive supported by the Australian Academy of Science, Yee Lian also aims to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in academia by removing barriers to retention for minoritised groups. In 2021, she was awarded a SA Young Tall Poppy award in recognition of her science communication and research profile.
Mary Overton Senior Research Fellow in Neuroscience (2021-2025)
Lecturer (2019), NHMRC Research Fellow (2020), University of Wollongong
Postdoctoral research, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge UK (2016-2019)
PhD, University of Sydney (2015)
Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Honours), University of Sydney (2010)
Research Plain summary: What happens to our brain when we learn something? When we learn that knives are sharp, so we have to handle them carefully – or when we learn that eating pineapples makes us ill, so maybe we should avoid munching on them – we gain new knowledge and memories. When we learn something, we suddenly don’t gain a new brain or grow 500 new brain cells. But something changes. In our lab, we study how learning and gaining new memories alters how brain cells signal to each other. We find that learning triggers the release of neurochemical signals that can have wide-ranging impacts on brain regions that control movement, or the ability to sense the environment. Some of these neurochemicals can also have very specific effects on behaviour. We use the worm brain to understand these chemical changes, hoping that we can translate our research on the tiny worm brain to the much bigger brain of humans, which may change the way we manage and treat conditions like neurodegeneration and chronic pain.
SA Young Tall Poppy Award, 2021
Superstars of STEM, Science and Technology Australia, 2021-2022
University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor's Research Excellence Award for Emerging Researcher 2020
NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow (EL1) 2020-2024
Rebecca L Cooper Medical Research Foundation Project Grant, 2020-2021
European Molecular Biology Organisation Long-term Fellow, 2016-2018
Medical Research Council (MRC) Career Development Fellow, 2015-2016
International Postgraduate Research Scholarship, 2011-2015
Formerly a subject coordinator for senior Medical Biotechnology students, Yee Lian is keen to engage with undergraduates and postgradute students interested in a research career in neuroscience, genetics and cellular biology. She has previously taught into Neuroscience, Chemistry (Structural Biology), Biochemistry and Biotechnology courses.
Science communication and community engagement:
Advocacy and Equity/Diversity/Inclusion
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