Humans of FHMRI: Simon Conn


Professor Simon Conn, a Molecular & Cellular Biologist, embarked on his scientific journey after completing his Bachelor of Biotechnology (Hons) at Flinders University in 2006. From illuminating plant salinity tolerance to uncovering the secrets of circular RNAs in mammalian cells, his groundbreaking work has graced the pages of prestigious journals like Cell and Nature Biotechnology. With a remarkable $14 million in grants garnered throughout his career, and a focus on brain cancer as a founding member of the Australian Brain Alliance, Simon is a leader in molecular biology.

In 25 words or less, tell us what your research is about?

As a cancer molecular biologist, my research focuses on the regulation and function of RNA molecules in the initiation, progression and treatment of cancer.

How do you believe your research will impact patient care or public health outcomes?

RNA molecules have been thrust into the awareness of the general public with the CoVID pandemic and how a type of RNA (called mRNA) can be used as viral vaccines. My laboratory investigates RNA molecules (both mRNA and the most recently identified family of RNA molecules, called circular RNA) which contribute to cancer, particularly brain cancer. There is a great potential for my team’s research to exploit these RNA molecules as biomarkers of disease and as bona fide therapeutic targets in the treatment of people with cancer.

What do you enjoy most about being a researcher?

Performing research into an insidious disease, like cancer, is like trying to solve a puzzle that can save people’s lives. The sooner you solve one part, the better the chance of people you know benefitting from your findings. But, it always takes more than one person and I relish the interactions with members of my laboratory, other researchers around the world trying to solve the same puzzle and, critically, the patients and carers themselves who inspire us all to continue striving to connect the missing pieces.

What do you do when you’re not researching?

Sleep!!! As cancer is all around us, I am researching whenever I am awake. Having said that, I do enjoy looking after the animals on my farm and experimenting with making wine from my small vineyard.

What advice would you give to aspiring health and medical researchers?

As cancer still kills 1 in every 7 people on earth, I would start with a quote from former US president Ronald Reagan, who said “Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’”. Therefore, I would say to aspiring health and medical researchers “Challenge the status quo” as innovation is the best approach for research and it is worth taking that risk as you might save even one person’s life.

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FHMRI staff