Stacey Reinke

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Dr. Stacey Reinke

Short Biography

Stacey Reinke received her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Alberta (Canada, 2011) and held a Postdoctoral Fellowship, from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, at the Karolinska Institute (Sweden) before being recruited to Perth in 2016. During her PhD and subsequent postdoctoral training, Stacey developed considerable expertise in the area of clinical and biomedical metabolomics, including biochemistry, analytical chemistry, large-scale cohort studies, statistics, and data science. She has applied these skills to several biological contexts, including mitochondrial and central energy dysfunction, neonatal asphyxia, neuroinflammation, and respiratory disease. Her current research focus is two-fold: (1) applying metabolomics and systems biology approaches to inform disease mechanisms and biomarker discovery in early-life contexts, and (2) enhancing the field of clinical and biomedical metabolomics through methodological advancement (high quality high-throughput workflows, quality assurance, data analysis).

Expert Opinion

Why did you start using metabolomics in your investigations?

It was a bit serendipitous actually. In undergrad, my favourite subject was biochemistry (specifically intermediary metabolism). I wanted to pursue this interest further during my PhD and joined the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta. During the first few months of my program, I rotated through different labs to find a suitable research project and supervisor. There were two labs that I particularly liked – one was a mitochondrial biology lab and the other an NMR spectroscopy lab, which focussed mainly on protein structure. I wasn’t that interested in protein structure, but another student in the lab was working in the (then) new field of metabolomics. Because mitochondria are central to metabolism, and central energy metabolites are easily detected using NMR, investigating the metabolic consequences of mitochondrial dysfunction seemed like a good fit. The rest is history.

What have you been working on recently?

When I first arrived in Perth almost 3 years ago, I helped to establish clinical paediatric metabolomics studies, as part of the Australian National Phenome Centre initiative at Murdoch University. Last year, I obtained an independent academic research position at Edith Cowan University (ECU). So far, I have cemented and extended my Australian collaborations in metabolomic paediatrics and early-life, but switched my focus more to personalised medicine, aiming to harness the intersection between systems biology, artificial intelligence, and personalised technology. With the support of the Centre for Integrative Metabolomics and Computational Biology at ECU, I have also been working on streamlining mass-spectrometry based analytical techniques towards making subsequent data analysis methods and computational workflows more accessible and interoperable. Much of my research has now moved me into multi-omic integration, which is very challenging but also exciting.

Do you envision translation of your research focused on mitochondrial and respiratory diseases as well as neuroinflammation to an improvement of human health? What are your aspirations with respect to that?

I think everyone aspires to translating their research into a meaningful contribution to society. By current definition, metabolomics primarily represents the initial discovery, and hypothesis generation, phase in human health and, if successful, the first steps to a long journey to clinical translation. Realistically, many of my research findings are one piece of a much larger puzzle. Having said that, some of my findings have identified putatively novel biology and biomarkers panels, and I hope to obtain funding to investigate these further. Now that I am working more in the personalised medicine space, it is important to carefully plan studies to ensure reproducible results that can be efficiently progressed into a more targeted methodology before translation and embedding into clinical practice.

You have had an opportunity to collaborate and work at many well-established institutions from University of Alberta (Canada), through Karolinska Institutet (Sweden) and Murdoch University (Australia) to Edith Cowan University (Australia). How do you think international collaborations helped you to succeed as a researcher? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome these? What is the next step in your career?

Taking opportunities to relocate and work at different institutions, in different countries, has hugely benefited my career. Through these experiences, I have been exposed to different research ideologies and have worked with many world-class experts from diverse scientific fields. As a result, I have both diversified and gained a huge amount of expertise, experience, and confidence. Although it can seem scary and out of reach, it is not as difficult as it first seems. There are many funding opportunities, obtaining visas to work in academia is often comparatively easy, and there are often support mechanisms for bringing family with you. If you are interested, it can be as simple as approaching a group that you want to work with, and they may be able to open doors. Definitely be proactive.

Of course, relocating does come with challenges. Probably the most immediate and notable challenge I experienced, following both international relocations, was overcoming societal and academic culture shock. All countries and universities do things a little bit differently, and it can be challenging to adapt, especially if you don’t speak the native language. I overcame this by taking one step at a time and dealing with things in order of importance. I’ve also learned to not be shy about asking for help when I need it. Another fairly immediate challenge was leaving my family. However, I find that I actually speak to my family more often now than I did when I lived in Canada because I make an active effort to call them every week. Now when I go home, it’s a big deal for everyone and we make the most of our time together.

In terms of the next step - in all of the research positions I have undertaken, I have had the opportunity to teach at the undergraduate level. As a result, I’ve become passionate about teaching the next generation of scientists and introduce them to research. Recently, my colleagues and I developed an experiment that introduced metabolomics into an undergraduate analytical chemistry lab class. I have also been studying part-time to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Tertiary Education. My goal is to obtain a continuing academic position, where I can continue to follow both my passion for research and tertiary education.

You have been previously involved in the Early-career Members Network Committee of Metabolomics Society which focuses on supporting early-career researchers. How has taking up this post equipped with skills that you find useful in your career? Would you recommend our readers getting involved in such activities?

I would definitely recommend that early-career researchers (or anyone for that matter) join committees or task groups, such as the EMN. They are a fantastic way to get involved in the community, to meet other people, and also to become more visible in the community. Looking back, my involvement in the EMN greatly helped me to develop both my networking and my leadership skills – both of which are important to have, but not always the easiest to learn. I have always been a bit of an introvert. Before joining the EMN, it often seemed intimidating to engage with more senior members of the community at conferences. However, by being actively involved in conference activities, I found that it didn’t take long for me to come out of my shell. At conferences, I have very much transitioned from being simply an observer, to being an active participant. The EMN also opened doors for me to interact and work with the Board of Directors and gave me a platform to boost my confidence in speaking up.

See also