Studying the genetic variations for developmental delay and autism in children has been the focus of study for student Alyce Dunn, 28, from Carrara.

Set to graduate in November, the Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science student is currently in her fourth and final year of the program, majoring in histopathology and genetics.

Formerly a supervisor for a duty free outlet at the Gold Coast Airport, Alyce took on her latest round of study following completing a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences, also at Griffith.

“Ihad always had an interest in science, but was unsure of exactly what I wanted to do. Initially I started doing Biomedical Sciencethen after graduation the Medical Laboratory Sciencedegree became available. During this time I worked at the airport to support myself financially while completing my degrees.”

But it was an eleven week placement at the National Centre for Medical Genetics at Our Lady’s Children Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, that really provided Alyce with a unique opportunity for professional growth in her chosen field.

“I was really lucky to be selected to travel to Ireland for the placement where I worked in Cytogenetics. This department is further divided into sections called Microarray; Fluorescence in situ hybridisation or ‘FISH’, Oncology and Constitutional. The goal was to work as a lab assistant in a fully functional clinical laboratory, assisting with procedures across all of the different areas.

“Initially I was involved in preparing DNA samples to check for genetic losses and gains. This involved looking for chromosomal disorders in relation to development delay in children and possibly also for genetic signs of autism.

“Children would be referred to the hospital, sometimes from birth, for conditions including Down’s Syndrome. I was involved in staining of the chromosomes and the genetic testing for this condition, as well as others such as Fragile X Syndrome.

“Cytogenetics is a very interesting section to work in; everyday there was something different and I was constantly learning and gaining a better understanding of the different syndromes and conditions, as well as the tests used to diagnose them.

“During my placement I had the opportunity to observe, assist and work autonomously, this has allowed me to grow professionally, improving my communication skills and confidence conducting laboratory procedures.

“I found my time at the NCMG invaluable and I have learnt a lot, improved my laboratory skills and gained a better insight into what it means to be a laboratory scientist. The Centre even offered me a position with them if I wanted it!”

“It’s really exciting to now be studying how different genetic variations of individuals could lead to altered risk of developmental delays and autism spectrum disorders. In the future, this work may lead to new developments in the research and treatment targets for these conditions,” she says.

Having just completed her research project ‘Identifying biomarkers for colorectal cancer via immunohistopathology,’ Alyce says she is now looking forward to gaining a job in pathology or alternatively continuing with a research position at Griffith.