Misty Jenkins is a descendent of the Gunditjmara nation of western Victoria, and a trailblazer in the world of science.

She was the first person in her family to go to university, leaving her home in Ballarat to study at the University of Melbourne. After completing her PhD, she became the first Indigenous Australian to undertake post-doctoral training at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.

Today Dr Jenkins leads her own research lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research, where she’s set her sights on another ‘first’ – developing revolutionary immunotherapies for currently incurable brain cancers.

Brain cancer kills more Australian children, and more people under 40, than any other disease. Survival rates are low and have not changed for around 30 years. Dr Jenkins hopes her work will be a major step towards changing this.

Her focus is on manipulating the human immune system to make it fight cancer. Dr Jenkins and her team are genetically changing the disease-fighting white blood cells of our immune system, killer T-cells, to help them recognise and attack cancer cells in the brain.

It’s high stakes work, but Dr Jenkins is driven by her passion for discovery, and the prospect of giving real hope to people with one of the deadliest types of cancer.

Given her experience, it’s not surprising Dr Jenkins has become an advocate for women in science, and for increasing the participation of Indigenous Australians in higher education, and in the world of science.

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Illustrated by Antra Svarcs