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June 2005 Issue
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Revecca responds to child disease challenge


Contributing to research that could benefit thousands of children suffering from a debilitating disease is all in a day's work for one University of Adelaide student.

Revecca Kakavanos is studying for her PhD in the university's Department of Paediatrics and is based at the Women's and Children's Hospital. She is studying the immune response to therapy for a group of genetically inherited conditions known as Lysosomal Storage Disorders (LSD).

LSD affects children and as the child grows, symptoms appear and worsen with age. Severely affected patients deteriorate rapidly and die by the age of 10.

Revecca is part of the Lysosomal Diseases Research Unit at the hospital, which aims to develop therapies for children who suffer from these life-threatening diseases.

"Lysosomes are found within each of the body's cells and are responsible for the removal of cellular waste. This process relies on a series of proteins (enzymes), working together inside the lysosome," Revecca said.

"LSD results from a deficiency in function of one or more of these enzymes, leading to an impaired waste removal. Over time, the waste accumulates within the cell and interferes with the cell's normal function, leading to onset of disease."

Revecca's work involves investigating why some LSD patients react to current therapeutic strategies and subsequently identify ways to prevent these reactions from occurring in order to assist the delivery of a more effective therapy.

Last year, Revecca was given the opportunity to present her research findings at the 8th International Symposium on Mucopolysaccharide and Related Diseases in Germany.

"This was a fulfilling experience that would not have been possible without the two travel awards I obtained: the Faculty of Health Sciences Postgraduate Travelling Fellowship and the Alumni Association Heddle/AUGUC Awards," she said.

"A number of internationally recognised experts in my field were present at the conference, making it an ideal environment to present my work."

But that was not the only highlight of 2004, with Revecca being one of the eight semi-finalists for the Young Investigator Awards.

"This was a challenging experience as the target audience was one of a general scientific background and I consequently had to avoid using scientific lingo, but my ability to present my research has been greatly improved," she said.

Revecca said her next major priority is to finish her PhD later this year.

"I enjoy and am intrigued by the field I'm currently in and hope to be able to continue working towards understanding the immune response in these affected children," she said.

Story by Natalie De Nadai

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Revecca Kakavanos
Photo by Ben Osborne

Revecca Kakavanos
Photo by Ben Osborne

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