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30 minutes with … Dr Linda Blomster

About your work

 
What is the exact title of your role? 
Research Officer. It basically means that I am an early career researcher with a PhD who is developing my own research niche whilst still under the mentorship of a professor. 
 
Where do you currently work and how long have you been working there?
I work at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland in St Lucia, Brisbane. I started here in early 2017 after my husband, who is originally from Brisbane, and I relocated from Sweden.
 
How did you end up here? Why did you become a scientist and researcher?
I always liked all the science subjects at school, which slowly developed into a passion for human health and disease. I came to Australia for the first time in 2008 to do my Master thesis and then later a PhD. I like Australia a lot and IMB is a leading research institute so I feel very fortunate to contribute to and be a part of the research activities here. 
 
What exciting changes are you currently seeing in epilepsy research? What do you think is the most exciting change and why?  
There are still a large number of people diagnosed with epilepsy where the underlying cause is unknown. However, with the increasing focus on determining individual causes we will hopefully be able to reduce the size of this group in the future. Although this is a more complex way of looking at it, this is also the reality of human disease and will hopefully lead to better and more individualised treatment options with minimal side effects in the future. I want to believe that research will one day find a cure to epilepsy.
 
What are the discoveries that have lead up to your current work?
I used to work for a biotech company where the focus was on finding new drugs. I am very excited about being able to find out more about the underlying biological mechanisms behind epilepsy in my current research, as well as searching for new drugs and treatment options.
 
Why is your research important? What are the possible real world applications for people living with epilepsy?
I hope that my research will help understand the genetic and molecular mechanisms behind some specific childhood epilepsies involving the gene KCNQ2. The more we can learn about the underlying mechanisms involved the better and more individualised treatments we can develop for, in this case, children with epilepsy.  
 
What do you love about your job?  
It is a very creative job where each day is different to the next. I love working with people e.g. clinicians, peers and students, which I get to do a lot. I love solving problems and I feel very accomplished each time we learn something new. The University of Queensland is a wonderful work place with modern thinking and high ethical standards, with a lot of emphasis on gender equality, something that is very important and resonates with me.
 

How do people respond when they find out you’re working in a venom lab?
They think it is cool and interesting that we can actually use molecules derived from venomous animals as a potential treatment. Our lab has a very extensive collection of more than 600 venoms from different creatures (including spiders, scorpions and centipedes) from all over the world.  Spider venoms for example contain millions of bioactive molecules and they use these to target the nervous system of their prey. Evolution has fine-tuned venom molecules towards specific targets without affecting the ones that cause side effects, properties that we can make use of when developing new drugs to treat nervous system disorders in humans. 
 
About you
 
Is there one particular inspirational woman in science or research that you have met or would love to meet?  
There are obviously lots of famous women that have, and are currently doing, amazing things in science that inspire me. However, the women that I look up to the most are the ones that are approachable and that are willing to reach out and support myself and other women. They work across diverse fields and understand that we can achieve more together as a community. 
 
Where would you most like to travel? 
I would like to visit South America and Africa simply because I have not yet visited those continents.
 
What is your favourite food? 
The food my husband cooks for me. 
 
Describe your most embarrassing moment?  
Oh….where to start! There are quite a few to choose from. I am not entirely comfortable being in the spotlight so being featured in an article like this pushes me right out of my comfort zone.  
 
What is your favourite book/author?
I don’t have the kind of personality where I can limit myself to having 1 favourite book/author. There are simply too many good books and authors to choose from. I like practically everything from fiction, biographies and non-fiction. I do prefer literature that differs from my own reality and / or where I will learn something new. I recently finished reading yet another inspirational novel written by the renowned author Khaled Hosseini. Next I wish to read the autobiography of former rugby league player Wally Lewis who talks about his life with epilepsy. 
 
What genres of music do you like listening to/favourite song? 
Whatever is currently playing on the radio. 
 
Do you have any interesting hobbies you would like to tell us about?  
I love animals and dogs in particular. I have 2 border collies. So lots of dog related activities such as going for walks, dog training activities including obedience, dog agility, and sheep herding.
 
What do you feel would greatly improve epilepsy research currently in Queensland?  

Getting people to talk about their epilepsy will help to raise awareness about the condition. I don’t think most people are quite aware of how common it really is. Increased awareness would lead to more knowledge in the community and potentially also increased funding for research and other services that would help people living with epilepsy. A lot of women in Queensland are working hard towards improving the health for individuals with epilepsy and I do believe that highlighting their work will get them the encouragement that they deserve. 
 
For more information on the venom lab at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at UQ visit: https://imb.uq.edu.au/venom