CONCERT Member Of The Month

Joseph Po

Sometimes, one person can set you on a path which ultimately shapes your whole career. For Joseph Po, CONCERT’s Biobank Manager, that person was his high school biology teacher.

“She made class effortless and I love the way she showed us biology’s human relevance and application in the real world.”

When he completed his HSC, pursuing a career in medical science seemed the obvious choice. However, despite enjoying his undergraduate degree and completing his honours, Joseph wasn’t sure what path he should take.

And that’s when he was almost lost to alcohol. But not in the way you might think. To get through university, Joseph worked as a bartender and soon found himself working his way up the hospitality industry. Completing course after course, Joseph developed an extensive knowledge of wine, cocktails and fine dining. A career in hospitality could have been his new path. But driven by a need to learn, Joseph found himself gravitating back to science and medicine where there are many unanswered questions and areas to explore.

“I’m pretty excitable about learning and there are never-ending opportunities to learn in medical research,” Joseph explains,

Joseph realised that medical research was definitely the path he should pursue after he ran into a friend, completing her PhD in prostate cancer research. Whilst assisting with her research, Joseph was approached about his possible interest in translational cancer research.

Joseph was more than interested.

Starting as CONCERT’s Biobank technical Officer in 2017, Joseph quickly transitioned to Coordinator, and this year to his current position as CONCERT’s Biobank Manager.

“I’m extremely passionate about translational cancer research. To see the effects that our research can have, and is having, on cancer patients is extremely rewarding.”

Earlier this year, Joseph submitted his PhD “Beyond epithelial circulating tumour cells (CTCs): Establishing Important Methods for CTC Isolation and Analysis” which, Joseph hopes, will one day have direct benefits for cancer patients.

As part of this PhD, Joseph developed assays for the isolation of circulating tumour cells and the subsequent detection of clinically relevant biomarkers which provides insight into patient response to therapy in real-time.

Potentially, an assay such as this can have enormous translational benefits for cancer patients.

“If you have an assay that shows, in real time, when you’re not responding to a specific therapy, you can stop immediately and seek alternative treatments or move to a clinical trial. This can help patients undergoing immunotherapy (which often comes with serious side-effects) for whom this type of treatment may not be of any benefit,” Joseph explains.

In his new role as CONCERT’s Biobank Manager, Joseph is devising strategies to drive researchers to use the over-20,000 biospecimens currently stored at the bank as well as initiating projects within the research community.

“I’m wanting to drive our biobank strategy forward from volume-based to value-based. We are now focusing our efforts on getting researchers to use our stored specimens in their research as well as facilitate the collection of samples for project-specific research,” says Joseph.

Over 10 years ago, a high school science teacher taught Joseph about biology’s relevance to the real world.  He’s working in that real world now, and with his focus on translational cancer research, Joseph is indeed ensuring his work is relevant.

By Linda Music