Dr Katie Allen, the newest member of ARMI’s Leadership Advisory Board (ARMILab), is focused on creating impact in society with robust evidence and unwavering commitment. A medical doctor, a leading researcher in several fields with publications in high-impact journals and a former federal member of parliament, Katie’s expertise, experience and leadership will help drive ARMI’s research forwards towards translation and commercialisation and beyond.
Katie started her career journey with a medical degree from Monash University, completed her paediatrics training at the Royal Children’s Hospital and then moved to the University of Chicago and the Children’s Memorial Hospital.
As a hepatology fellow in one of the world’s biggest liver transplant units at the time, she witnessed whole organ liver transplants. Katie explained, “I thought there must be a better way of doing things.” It was here where she developed her appetite for research. Landing at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) back in Melbourne, Katie embarked on her PhD. “For my PhD, I pioneered liver cell transplantation for paediatric metabolic liver disease. And my PhD was successful. Then I translated it into undertaking liver cell transplants in children.”
While working at MCRI, Katie recognised the emergence of population genomics and took on a passion project called HaemeScreen which looked at population-based screening for a common genetic mutation called haemochromatosis. “We screened 11,000 people in the workplace. Then we started a big study of 40,000 people and analysed the penetrance of the disease. This work was published in the New England Journal, The Lancet and BMJ, and received a number of prestigious grants.” Katie then left that field to go into the research area of food allergy and led a project called HealthNuts.
“I had a very thriving, flourishing medical research career, but I decided I’d like to have more impact. I had this urgency to put my hand up for Federal Parliament. We need more people of diversity, we need more women, we need more professional people and more problem solvers in Parliament.”
During her time as a Federal Member of Parliament, Katie was able to recommend an inquiry into allergy, which has led to the establishment of a National Allergy Council and a National Allergy Centre of Excellence. Given Katie’s experience with public health, she was able to help Parliament understand and deliver COVID testing, protective PPE gear, public health measures, vaccines and help to engage in educating the public.
Today, Katie is now back at Murdoch working to accelerate the commercialisation of genomics research at the institute.
Looking back at her career thus far, Katie states that it has been her resilience that has helped her the most at every stage of her life. “Every medical researcher knows what I’m talking about. And every clinician knows what I’m talking about. And I would say that resilience helped me in Parliament.”
What drives Katie is a combination of curiosity and the desire to use her skills and expertise to make a difference to help others, not just now but into the future.
Having worked across a spectrum of research areas, Katie understands the unique promise of regenerative medicine. “It’s such a thrill to come to ARMI because I’ve watched the regenerative medicine space, and it’s a very exciting area. It’s finally coming of age. We’re at that tipping point now where we can see therapeutics coming to market at speed and there’s a huge pipeline capability and opportunity. It’s a great privilege to help support ARMI.”