Molecular Researcher, Lorenzo Odierna, has long been fascinated with the complexity of the human brain. The 2010 Narangba Valley State High graduate epitomises the school motto, “Challenging the Future," in steering cutting-edge research and making ground-breaking discoveries in neuro-genetics and the treatment of disease.
Describing his NVSHS biology teacher as a good mentor and support, “who rewarded my creativity which helped me do better and follow my path at Uni," Lorenzo suggests it may be advantageous for any student interested in scientific research to gain hands-on laboratory experience by enrolling in a university summer program. “It gives a perspective of how things work in science," he says, as a career in research requires, “hard work, a long term commitment and a ton of faith in the future."
It was during his third year at University, as an undergraduate studying neuroscience and psychology, that Lorenzo reassessed his original plan to study medicine, despite doing well in the medical school entry exam. At that point, he had interacted with a number of vibrant researchers who inspired him and he felt that neuro-scientific research was a far more exciting career, than medicine.
He then committed to a University Honours year which facilitated entry into a PhD program and provided him with a deeper understanding of the research world itself. His thesis used fruit flies to investigate how molecules worked at the connections between nerve cells and muscle fibres, and he explains that Fruit Flies are ideal to use in research as, “we can access their brain cell connections with little effort." adding that, “Humans are also something like 60% genetically identical to fruit flies, so much of the biology that happens in flies is translatable to humans."
After being awarded a PhD, in 2019, for fundamental discoveries about how a gene associated with Down syndrome works, Lorenzo completed a postdoctoral stint at the University of Sydney, testing the potential for synthetic cannabinoids in treating diseases like Myasthenia Gravis.
Of major significance is his premier work at the Queensland Brain Institute in 2021, when Lorenzo developed a new method to grow and study brain cells that outperformed existing world-wide research methods. “The brain cells are grown in a dish or on special microchips with tens of thousands of electrical sensors to detect their activity. Previous methods could keep cells alive for a few days at most, whereas my brain cells lived for months on end. I was able to use the method I developed to make new discoveries about how a gene that is associated with Autism works."
Even though Lorenzo is pragmatic about the limited and highly competitive opportunities for scientific research in Australia, which are often contingent upon funding, this highly skilled researcher has no plans to leave Australia for work and hopes, in time, to be able to establish his own research group, focused on neuroscience.
Reflecting on his initial choice to study medicine, there is no doubt Lorenzo is more than happy with how his career has unfolded. “For those who have that itch to pull apart the beautiful complexity of our world, the fulfilment you get, (from Molecular Research), is second to none. Can't say I can see myself doing anything different. It's the best thing I have done, and will continue to do, with my life."
Image credit: Lorenzo Odierna, Queensland Brain Institute