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From snakes to ear aches: meet our new Research Fellow

When Dr Abbie Francis applied for a position at Ear Science Institute Australia, she’d been following our work for some time.
As a PhD student, Abbie had seen Adjunct Professor Rodney Dilley presenting on several projects including ClearDrum®, the 3D printed eardrum, and wanted to be part of the team behind the solutions.
“The work that has come out of Professor Dilley’s groups is really exciting. I’m very keen to be part of that,” Dr Francis said.
Dr Francis has been making waves at the University of Western Australia, working on ground-breaking projects investigating the immune system during severe allergic shock (anaphylaxis) and developing a 3D blood vessel to model the effects of snake bites. Before graduating with her PhD in 2017, Abbie was awarded four competitive prizes for her work.
Now, she’s joined our team as a Research Fellow.
ABBIE’S WORK WITH EAR SCIENCE
Through her Fellowship at Ear Science, Dr Francis will be working with Dr Elaine Wong’s inner ear research team. For much of her time, she will use 3D stem cell cultures to fully understand the impact on ear cells of the mutations which lead to Usher Syndrome, a debilitating condition affecting both hearing and vision.
The ultimate goal is to cure the hearing loss.
“I’ve started doing a bit of 3D culture, but this is on the next level – really cutting edge. I’m very excited to hit the ground running,” Dr Francis said.
A/Prof Rodney Dilley, Head of Basic Research at Ear Science, is excited to have Dr Francis working on the Usher project and supporting other researchers in their work.
“Abbie has shown already that she can think outside the box, which is an essential quality to have in research,” A/Prof Dilley said.
“But she also has a keen interest in some of the areas we’re taking great strides in, like tissue engineering with biomaterials and 3D bio-printing to create realistic disease models.”
“We look forward to working with Abbie, an up and coming scientist who isn’t afraid to seek new solutions in unexpected areas. We have great hope that her work will help us to cure hearing loss.”
SNAKE VENOM AND HUMAN CELLS
Abbie’s previous work focused on developing a 3D blood vessel for testing snake venoms and anti-venoms.
“We wanted to test the theory that when you get bitten by a snake, you collapse suddenly because you’ve lost all your blood volume. All of your blood vessels become very leaky – and fast. We needed to see it in action.”
The work is the first of its kind, and something Abbie is proud to be part of – and paves the way for her work with Ear Science.
“The outcomes are quite different to what we’re trying to achieve here, but the processes and techniques are very similar.”
MENTORING YOUNG STUDENTS
Dr Francis will also be mentoring some of the new students, honing their techniques and encouraging them to become more confident in the lab.
“It’s a good time for me to give back as well – I’ll be helping our students get the most out of their experience here and reach the next level.”
However, Dr Francis also looks forward to being mentored by our senior staff.
“I’m excited to be mentored by Rod and Elaine. They’re both amazing in their own careers and have achieved a lot, so I’m keen to learn from them!”

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