Celebrating Women Leaders in the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct

NEWS - 08 Mar 2024

5 minute read

In honour of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024, this month we shine a spotlight on the outstanding contributions of three female leaders within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct. From driving HealthTech innovation to leading clinical medicine and driving research excellence, these trailblazers exemplify the theme of “Count Her In: Invest in women. Accelerate progress.”

The Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct is a thriving community of ideas, life and innovation, hosting some of Australia’s top scientists, research industries, and cutting-edge facilities. The Queensland Government’s Lumina Gold Coast commercial cluster stands out as the exclusive destination for life sciences, health, and technology businesses, providing them the opportunity to actively engage within this dynamic Precinct. These remarkable women epitomise the collaborative spirit of the Lumina Gold Coast environment, where cross-disciplinary partnerships fuel innovation. As we celebrate their achievements this IWD, let’s reaffirm our commitment to investing in women and accelerating progress toward a brighter future.

Associate Professor Danielle Stanisic: Tackling the challenges of life-saving vaccines for malaria

Associate Professor Danielle Stanisic is a globally renowned immunoparasitologist based at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics and is a leading figure in the global fight against malaria, one of the world’s most severe public health problems.

Danielle co-leads research trials focused on developing a malaria vaccine that can be freeze-dried, which is critical to transportation and storage without refrigeration in vulnerable communities. Later this year, the world-first vaccine will commence its Phase I trial in human volunteers.  

Witnessing firsthand the devastating impact of malaria while working in Papua New Guinea, Danielle knew that she wanted to contribute to developing a vaccine: “I’m proud that, despite many challenges along the way, I’ve maintained that passion and that goal.”

“Pregnant women and children under five are disproportionately affected by malaria – it’s estimated every year that there are approximately 10,000 maternal and 200,000 infant deaths due to pregnancy-associated malaria. We hope that the work we are doing will make a meaningful contribution to reducing the impact of this deadly disease.”

While her work contributes towards life-saving vaccines (particularly needed by women), Danielle also advocates for women working in medical research. “It can be very rewarding, but also very challenging. Working on something which you are passionate about is what will get you through the frustrating and challenging times.”

It’s also important to find a mentor (or mentors) early in your career – someone who is not afraid to give you the important career advice that sometimes you may not want to hear. I greatly appreciate the support I have had from my mentors, colleagues, university, and funders”.

Ariana Margetts – Facilitating Innovation and Economic Impact on the Gold Coast

Ariana Margetts is the Chief Operating Officer of CoSpaces and the first female President of the Southport Chamber of Commerce on the Gold Coast. Her leadership, particularly through support of entrepreneurs and business owners, is helping drive the transformation of the Gold Coast economy. Her mission is to “push the needle forward on innovation by creating and delivering exceptional support programs that provide founders with access to mentors, education, and capital”.

At the helm of the CoSpaces ecosystem, Ariana oversees a portfolio of initiatives, including the Queensland Government’s Cohort Innovation Space within Lumina, The Station, Queensland AI Hub, and The Residence, providing invaluable support and resources to entrepreneurs and forward-thinking enterprises.  Ariana is also the Director of Lumina X HealthTech Accelerator program, a partnership between Lumina Gold Coast and Cohort Innovation Space.  The program is an incubator for start-ups and is at the forefront of revolutionising healthcare solutions. 

Considering this year’s theme for IWD, Ariana said “Investing in women is not just about promoting gender equality, but also recognising the unique perspectives and capabilities that they bring to the table. By empowering women, we strengthen our teams and foster a more inclusive and innovative business environment.”

“My advice for women working in entrepreneurship is to seek support from like-minded peers, experts, and mentors. Apply for programs – like LuminaX – that can help support your journey with education, connections, and capital.”

Dr Laetitia de Villiers – Co-Founding a Leading High-Tech Medical Training Centre for the APAC region

Dr Laetitia de Villiers is an Interventional Neuroradiologist specialising in minimally invasive treatment of brain aneurysms and stroke, and a Senior Lecturer at Griffith University. Dr de Villiers, co-founder alongside Dr Hal Rice, spearheaded the establishment of the ‘NeuTex Image-guided Surgical and Robotics Training Centre’ – a new state-of-the-art facility dedicated to clinical training and research in the latest interventional techniques.  Delivered in partnership with Northwest Healthcare Properties, the centre is already ‘up and running’ successfully as a pilot in a temporary location within Lumina, and will relocate to a permanent facility in the new, state-of-the-art RDX Lumina development by 2025. The Centre is set to become a hub for specialist doctors from across the Asia-Pacific region, offering opportunities for hands-on training and collaboration.

When asked for advice that she would give to women working in this, or similar areas of highly specialised medicine, Dr de Villiers said, “Neurointervention is a wonderful specialty in which you can really make a critical difference in treating a life-threatening brain aneurysm or stroke. The technology is continually evolving, and there is always something new and exciting that can further benefit our patients.

“However, it can also be very demanding, not only of your time, but also of your mental and emotional strength. Make sure you support your colleagues and try and surround yourself with colleagues who support you. Have true empathy with your patients and take a break when you need to. Most of all, stay curious, strive for excellence and be just a little bit dissatisfied with the norm so that you can pursue new avenues and ideas.”

In reflecting on the IWD theme Invest in Women, Dr De Villiers emphasises the importance of supporting women to become visible leaders. Early in her career, watching the only female speaker at one of the largest international conferences in the specialty, left a lasting impression. “It made me realise that it was possible for a woman to lead in this field.”

“The visibility of women in leadership and key business positions serves as inspiration, showing young women and girls that their dreams are achievable. I am grateful for the mentors and the colleagues who have invested in me fostering confidence to push the limits and seize opportunities.”

Through her dedication to her patients, advancing medical technologies and fostering collaboration and skill development for medical specialists throughout the Asia-Pacific region, Dr de Villiers has certainly become that visible example for the next generation of women.

This International Women’s Day, we celebrate these three accomplished women from within the Lumina Gold Coast and Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct community. These women exemplify the invaluable contributions of women across fields of scientific research, entrepreneurship and business, healthcare, and technology. While they serve as inspirational examples, they also agree on the importance of investing in women through support, education, mentorship, investment capital, and research funding.

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