Fascination with stem cell sensation leads to Fulbright scholarship

PhD student Meg McFetridge has received a coveted Fulbright Future Scholarship

Meg McFetridge was first inspired by mechanobiology in her honours’ year, watching stem cells on hydrogel surfaces. One end of the hydrogel was soft, the other end stiff, with a stiffness gradient in between. When the stem cells felt the soft end they became fat; on the stiff end they turned to bone. “I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

Four years later that fascination, her aptitude and a project Meg has devised as a PhD student have earned her a coveted Fulbright Future Scholarship for postdoctoral research at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York for eight months.

“I was completely speechless,” she said of the news. “The woman on the end of the phone who told me I’d got the scholarship was so excited; I was barely able to speak.

“The Fulbright is highly prestigious, it’s a great thing for Monash too. It demonstrates the quality of the doctoral program that it can produce highly competitive postdoctoral scholars.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship foreign exchange scholarship program of the US. Its Future Scholarship will provide Meg with, among other benefits, a monthly stipend, full visiting researcher scholar fees, a round-trip airfare to New York, enrichment opportunities in Australia and the US with other international Fulbright scholars, and access to a professional network of distinguished Australian and American Fulbright alumni.

Meg, who will submit her PhD in August, works in her primary supervisor Professor Sharon Ricardo’s lab and is co-supervised by Professor Mibel Aguilar and Dr Mark Del Borgo.

She will conduct research in the US into a project she has devised in mechano-microscopy.

“Cells and tissues push and pull on their surrounds to feel out where they are and what they need to do,” she said. “Mechano-microscopy is an umbrella term for a group of microscopy techniques that allow us to look at the complex relationship between cells and their physical environment. The Adie lab at Cornell University has developed a microscope that’s one of a kind – it combines multiple microscopy modes to get a complete picture of this interaction.

This microscope will allow us to tackle fundamental research questions in mechanobiology that have previously been near impossible to answer.”

Meg moved to Monash, having completed honours at the University of Western Australia, after reading about a project for her PhD. “This project offered me new challenges because it’s more translational than my previous work. The other thing about Monash is we have excellent facilities and a thriving research community which attracted me to make the move.”

Her PhD project aimed to develop hydrogels to deliver stem cell therapy. “In the long term we’re working towards safe and effective stem cell therapy for a broad range of diseases; in the short term we’re doing basic science to understand how we can create artificial environments that guide stem cells in the right direction.

“During my PhD the fascination with mechanobiology was nagging me to ask what the cells were feeling in my hydrogels, but I didn’t have the scope or the facilities to do so; that’s why I need to go to Cornell,” she said.

Meg, who will leave for the US early next year, hopes to act as a bridge between the “fantastic research community here” and researchers overseas who have the specialist equipment and are making advances in the field.

She has previously won poster awards at local and international conferences and was selected by Monash to be one of 35 students globally to take part in the two-week intensive SPARK Global Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training Course in August 2019.

There were 81 Australian Fulbright awardees this year: 41 students and 40 scholars (including Meg).

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University
Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Spanning six discovery programs across Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Development and Stem Cells, Infection and Immunity, Metabolism, Diabetes and Obesity, and Neuroscience, Monash BDI is one of the largest biomedical research institutes in Australia.  Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery

Media Enquiries
Monash Media - Wendy Smith
T: +61 425 725 836
E: wendy.smith1@monash.edu