MORE than most doctors, Kylie Mason knows the debilitating side effects of cancer treatment.
Diagnosed at 15 with leukaemia, the experience set her on a path that last night saw her awarded the L'Oreal For Women in Science Fellowship.
''I actually wanted to be a coroner,'' she said. ''But my experience at the Royal Children's as a teenager meant all of my role models were doctors and nurses and specialists.''
She now works both treating and researching blood cancers, including leukaemia, at Parkville's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
''I feel like I have a unique empathy with my patients,'' she said.
In the laboratory she works with a team developing an anti-cancer drug that has now reached human trials.
With colleagues, Dr Mason was able to establish a link between the drug and a drop in the number of platelets in the blood.
''Working from that we discovered the mechanism behind what makes platelets live and die,'' she said. ''This drug targets [that mechanism] and tells the cancer cell to die.''
She said because the treatment was so targeted, it meant side effects associated with chemotherapy, such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting, were reduced.
''It's the first drug in its class in that it targets this pathway in cancer cells and it works in a different way, which is advantageous because cancer cells develop new ways around drugs and adapt to the treatment,'' she said.
One of three early career researchers awarded the fellowship in Melbourne last night, Dr Mason said the drug was designed to be taken with other cancer treatments.
''Be it in a petri dish or in a patient, cancer cells adapt. So this multiple-drug approach is important as it minimises the ability of the cell to adapt,'' she said.
Two of the three fellows announced last night were from Melbourne.
Swinburne University's Dr Baohua Jia was awarded her fellowship for creating solar cells that increase efficiency by 23 per cent thanks to nanotechnology. The cells use quantum dots to convert ultraviolet light to visible light, which otherwise would have been missed.
Dr Suetonia Palmer from the University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand - still working from temporary facilities as the city rebuilds - was awarded her fellowship for research into kidney disease.
It's the sixth year the award has been open to Australian researchers and first year that New Zealanders were able to enter.
Each of the fellows is awarded $25,000, which can be used to fund further research as well as for expenses incurred by working - be it childcare or travel to international conferences.