ANU stem cell researcher joins ABC TOP 5

Dr Kiara Bruggeman

Dr Kiara Bruggeman

Biomedical engineer at The Australian National University (ANU), Dr Kiara Bruggeman, has been announced as an ABC TOP 5 Science 2020 recipient.

Getting complicated scientific concepts to be well understood by a broader audience and accurately conveyed through the media can be tricky.

Each year the ABC runs TOP 5, a media residency program for dynamic and passionate science and humanities early career scholars to teach them how to communicate their important research with Australians.

"It is really important to be able to get the science that we’re working on in the lab out to the people. Because you can so easily misconstrue science and we’re not ever going to have a good positive impact if people don’t understand and trust what we’re doing," said Dr Bruggeman.

Dr Bruggeman works at the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science. She is passionate about biomaterials and STEM education, and jokingly refers to herself as "a crazy mad brain scientist".

Dr Bruggeman makes materials that mimic healthy brain tissue on a nano scale. These can then be used to trick stem cells into becoming new brain tissue after brain damage from stroke or neurodegenerative diseases.

Stroke treatments we have in hospitals now try to minimise the damage done by a stroke as it happens. This new approach is working on recovering from the damage that has already been done.

She says the secret to tricking the cells is simple: peer pressure!

"Stem cells are pretty much tiny teenagers. They’re full of potential and could be anything they want! But left to their own devices, can be a little bit lazy and very influenced by what they see around them.

"So if we can mimic healthy brain tissues - successfully mimic their physical, biological, chemical properties - then stem cells interpret that environment. The cells think they’re surrounded by brain tissue and they don’t want to stand out, they just want to fit in and be normal. So they become brain cells too!" said Dr Bruggeman.

As an ABC TOP 5 2020 recipient, Dr Bruggeman will spend time learning from journalists and broadcasters at ABC Radio National as well as training in media communication and developing content with the ABC digital team.

"I’d like to get my message and my work out there. And to learn the skills that I need to keep getting it out there.

"We tend to end up doing a lot of communication and outreach as one-off things as an aside to our research. But it’s really very important that we keep doing that all the time. I want to learn how to make that a pattern, and encourage others to do so too, so that our work can keep reaching the people that it needs to reach," said Dr Bruggeman.

As part of a new partnership , ANU is sponsoring the ABC’s TOP 5 Science Program for 2020.


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