Expanding the ABC Network has typically seen many talented researchers based in South America join the collaborative cohort. However, the latest addition, Professor Gustavo Duque, a Colombian clinician-researcher who is currently based in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, is a little unique in that he perfectly epitomises the relationships this network aims to strengthen and the distances this network seeks to decrease.
“I was born in Colombia, South America, where I did my medical school with my specialty in internal medicine. I was already interested in geriatrics as my sub-specialty, so I moved to Montreal in Canada and did my geriatrics fellowship at McGill University. I became very interested in research progressively. So I decided to pursue a PhD also at McGill University, investigating the molecular mechanisms of the aging bone.”
After Gustavo completed his PhD, he had planned to stay in Canada as a lab head, but a job offer as Head of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Sydney led to this migration to Australia in 2007. Today, he is the Chair of Medicine and Director of the Australian Institute for Musculoskeletal Science (AIMSS) at Western Health, and when he is not in a hospital, he is overseeing his research team in musculoskeletal and ageing research at The University of Melbourne.
For Gustavo, joining the ABC Network was an obvious and easy decision, recognising that collaboration is a major catalyst of discovery, and he is excited to contribute and share his expertise. “My research group has a novel and different perspective on stem cells. We work a lot on a particular set of cells, known as circulating osteoprogenitor (COP) cells, that circulate in the bloodstream but are still progenitor cells. There are very few groups in the world that are working on this particular set of cells.” Additionally, Gustavo’s particular interest in the molecular mechanisms of ageing is another one of the major contributions he and his research group can make to the network. “Understanding ageing and the molecular mechanisms will help us develop ways to target them, for both young and old, but particularly the older population who benefit the most from these interventions.”
On the strength of South American regenerative medicine and stem cell research, Gustavo commented, “The interest in these fields of research in Latin America is growing exponentially. And I think that there a lot of people who have gone overseas for training are returning to start their research teams, whether it be in Colombia or Chile or Brazil.”
Even from a translational perspective, South American countries are coming to the fore on the global stage. “Running clinical trials in Australia is extremely expensive. In contrast, running the same similar trials in Latin America is much cheaper while still maintaining the same stringent ethical and other criteria. So I think that’s where the potential is. The governments are interested in investing and supporting this medical research,” noted Gustavo.
“You have a population of almost 500 million people who speak the same language and collaborate. So there is already a relatively solid network in Latin America. The scientific community there has been very well integrated for a while.” And it is time for Australia to link up with this community with the ABC Network.