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Q&A- Scott Cohen

Q&A- Scott Cohen

Meet Scott Cohen who is a Senior Research Officer in the Cell Biology Team.

Scott was the first in the world to identify the structure of telomerase, a molecule that allows cancer cells to keep growing and is also important for human aging.

What got you interested in science? 

My first fascination with science was a bit indirect – a fascination with flight. My Dad was a pilot and from an early age, I was around aircraft (one of my cherished memories as a child in the 70s was walking with my Dad under a 747, and up the stairs to the cockpit – you could do that in the 70s). As I prepared for college, I became interested in aerodynamics and the physics and chemistry associated with it. And the more physic and chemistry I learned, the more focused I became on these core physical sciences.

What is your current role at CMRI and what does it involve?

As a ‘Senior Research Scientist’ at CMRI, I am incredibly fortunate to have significant independence in carrying out my research on the cancer-associated enzyme ‘telomerase’. Most of my time is spent at the lab bench, where I investigate the biochemistry and structure of this amazing molecular machine. My work often begins with multi-step enzyme purification to extract this rare enzyme from immortal cancer cells we grow in the lab. With pure enzyme in hand, I subject it to a variety of experiments to measure enzymatic activity or visualise the molecule under the electron microscope

What study path did you take to get here?

My training was in chemistry: Bachelor of Science in chemistry at San Diego State University, followed by five years at Caltech earning a PhD in organic chemistry. After Caltech, I moved to the University of Colorado for postdoctoral research in the lab of Nobel Laureate Tom Cech; it was during these years I learned how to produce and handle RNA (the superior biomolecule).

Was there anything 'unconventional' about the approach you took?

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering how a Yank (trained in chemistry, no less) ends up in a biomedical institute in Western Sydney! During my time in Tom Cech’s lab, he hired a postdoc from Sydney by the name of Tracy Bryan. Tracy had just completed her PhD at CMRI after making a major discovery in telomere biology, and left CMRI with a standing offer to return. We got married, and the rest is history…

Anything you'd like to say to inspire the next generation of scientists?

Science is a journey! Perhaps a cliché but for me it’s been true. As my science has taken unexpected turns, I let it guide major decisions in my life, as opposed to the other way around. By being open to unexpected findings and embracing new areas of research you will be more likely to make major discoveries!!!

Learn more about Cell Biology here.