A devotion to cancer
‘rule breakers’

Cell growth and division

Image: tonaquatic/Adobe Stock

Image: tonaquatic/Adobe Stock

The ‘lightbulb moment’ that awoke Dr Mathew Jones to the wonders of biology still elicits a grin from The University of Queensland researcher.

His work investigating cancer at UQ’s Diamantina Institute (UQDI) was not on the radar when he attended Bribie Island State High School.

The Bougainville-born teenager’s interests were less academic and focused more on recreational activities.

“I was much more interested in bodyboarding, fishing and surfing than learning,” Dr Jones explains.

“But that changed in biology class when we were introduced to cell biology and the basic processes human cells use to grow and divide.

“Learning that cells are the smallest living component of our body, and that we all start as a single cell, really sparked my interest.

“That was the first time I remember being excited about science and paying attention in class.”

Fast forward two decades and the UQDI Research Fellow is still interested in cell growth and division.

His Molecular Genetics group is focused on studying the uncontrolled growth and division of cancer cells and decoding what he calls their “rulebreaking” behaviours.

“Cancer cells are rule breakers in that they continue to grow and divide, when healthy cells would normally stop dividing or die,” Dr Jones explains.

"My research is trying to discover new knowledge about how cancer cells continue to divide uncontrollably.

“By understanding those processes, we can design treatments that specifically target cancer cells.

“Unfortunately, research into fundamental biology that expands our understanding and builds knowledge is currently underfunded and at risk as funding shifts towards late-stage translational research.

“It is important to acknowledge that the life-extending treatments and vaccines we have today are built on decades of fundamental discovery research.

“Investing in the pursuit of new knowledge is critical to ensure that we are able to continue to innovate and improve cancer treatments and patient outcomes.”

Dr Matthew Jones
Matthew with wife and daughter in front of New York backdrop

Dr Jones with his wife and daughter in New York

Dr Jones with his wife and daughter in New York

Matthew walking with his daughter through snowy streets
Matthew with family in New York
Dr Jones in his lab

Dr Jones in his lab

Dr Jones in his lab

One thing that Dr Jones says helped with funding applications here in Australia is his time building connections in New York City.

After earning a bachelor’s degree at QUT and a PhD at UQ, Dr Jones packed his bags in 2009 with his partner, Dr Julia Pagan, who is also now a research fellow at UQ’s School of Biomedical Sciences.

Dr Jones continued his training at New York University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre for the next 10 years, living and working in Manhattan with Dr Pagan.

Career-wise, the US was a rewarding move, with Dr Jones even presenting his research to the New York Academy of Sciences, founded in 1817.

The Academy has had members including Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, and Margaret Mead.

“Presenting at the New York Academy of Sciences was a great honour and certainly a career highlight,” Dr Jones recalls.

“The training I had at these institutes gave me a lot of exposure to world-leading scientists and that experience shifts your perspective. It changed the way I evaluate my own science and it showed me what was possible with a
good idea.

“The postdoctoral community in New York is very international and we built friendships with colleagues from across the US, Europe and Asia.

“It has been exciting to watch this network spread as our peers go on to establish their own research groups in their home countries or in other parts of the US.”

This story is featured in the Winter 2021 edition of UQmedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine, visit our blog, MayneStream.