A family operation
8 May 2019
In his 36 years with the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Stuart Glasson has seen thousands of students graduate. But this autumn, one beaming young face stood out in the cap and gowned crowd: his own daughter.
Judith Glasson, 22, graduated with a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours). Her thesis investigated the feasibility of using material from the lens of hoki eyes to make a film for growing specialized cornea-repairing cells. These cells could then be transplanted onto people’s eyes to treat a rare but debilitating and painful condition called limbal stem cell deficiency, which can cause severe vision loss.
Since completing her honours last year, she has continued with this work as a research assistant, and plans to start a PhD later this year – “hopefully on something in the broader regenerative medicine field”.
“We have proven that the cells grown on these films are able to transfer back to a decellularised corneal as would be seen in therapeutic use,” she explains. “A lot more testing is still underway, but this makes us very hopeful that we have produced a viable and superior replacement for human amnion as a cell carrier in ocular stem cell therapy.”
Father and daughter have had a lot of time to talk over her research and faculty goings-on through the years - they drive in every day from their 50 ha beef farm in Helensville, 60-90 minutes each way.
I have greatly enjoyed learning about the eye and all its complexity, and especially finding a field were the application of my work is so tangible.
Says Stuart, who is Director of Faculty Operations, “I am so proud of Judith and what she has achieved, and so much look forward to seeing her graduate with her PhD in the future.”
Judith settled on biomedical science from early high school. “Aside from a vague notion of stem cells and regenerative medicine as an area of interest, I hadn't pinned down any specific topic as a goal. I fell into ophthalmology through the collaboration that Dr Laura Domigan [in the Faculty of Science], who I first began working with in second year for a summer studentship, has with Trevor Sherwin and his lab. It has been a wonderfully fortuitous connection - I have greatly enjoyed learning about the eye and all its complexity, and especially finding a field were the application of my work is so tangible.”
Stuart recalls what he told Judith when she was a high school student considering an academic research career: “My advice was to go for it. After working at the faculty for so long, I knew she would have a variety of exciting career opportunities ahead of her.”
He started out in the Department of Physiology as an electronics technician in 1983, maintaining and manufacturing instruments in support of laboratory-based teaching and research. Since then, he has occupied a number of management roles at the department, school and faculty level within FMHS.
The whole family have ties to the University of Auckland – mother Suzanne Glasson worked at the Department of Chemistry for over 16 years, starting shortly after Stuart did, and Judith’s older brother now works as an IT end user support engineer based in the Faculty of Science.
Judith’s thesis supervisor Professor Trevor Sherwin (Associate Dean - Postgraduate) says the honours year is the starting point in research for many students, during which they can test their aptitude and interest in a research career.
“Judith has proved herself as a potential star, having all of the qualities I look for in a graduate student. She is able to conceptualize and structure experiments accurately to test the hypothesis, has the skills and laboratory technique to execute them, and then is able to analyse the result and reconceptualize the next steps. Judith is an excellent student with a bright future.”
Nicola Shepheard | Media Adviser
Tel: +64 9 923 1515
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