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Presenting Dr Minoti Apti, NSW Premier’s ‘Woman of the Year’ 2015

Professor Minoti Apte is a very special and interesting person and not just because she was recently named as the 2015 winner of the NSW Premier’s ‘Woman of the Year’ award. Dr Apte was also awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2014 for her services to medical research, and is oftn called on to speak
at various events, at national and international levels. She is a woman of many interests including dance, music and is an active volunteer in the community.

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On the professional front, Dr Apte is internationally acknowledged as a leading researcher in the fild of pancreatic diseases, particularly chronic inflmmation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), and pancreatic cancer. Her work investigates pancreatic cancer at a cellular level to fid out how and why
cancer becomes aggressive and spreads quickly. She was the fist in the world to develop a method to isolate pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs), a technique
which provided a research tool for studying the path that pancreatic firosis (scarring of the pancreas) takes.

Dr Apte also plays an active role in academia through her supervision and mentorship of PhD, Masters and Honours students. She is Editor-inChief of Pancreatology, one of two major specialist journals in her fild, and her publications have received over 4000 citations. Dr Apte is regularly invited to speak at national and international scientifi meetings and has received national and international awards in recognition of her work over the years.
Minoti Apte shared her thoughts on the award and her work with me in an interesting chat. Here are excerpts of our conversation.

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Rekha Rajvanshi: How does it feel to be felicitated through the NSW Woman of the Year Award in 2015 and the OAM in 2014?
Dr Minoti Apte: I am truly humbled and honoured to receive this prestigious award. Ths award is not only reflctive of my own achievements, but the achievements of the entire Pancreatic Research Group that I have had the pleasure of leading for the past fourteen years. It is actually very good to have
medical research recognized

RR: Did you ever think that you would reach these heights?
MA: No, I don’t think anybody works for awards. We work because we have a passion for what we do. We just work as best as we can. I believe in Indian philosophy of ‘karma’, which says we just need to do our best without worrying about the result of reward

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RR: Women like you are a minority in the area of Sciences, so how did you decide on this fild?
MA: I am a medical graduate from India and arrived in Australia as a trailing spouse with my husband in 1982, as he was awarded a scholarship to do a Ph.D in chemical engineering. I worked
voluntarily at the Royal Newcastle Hospital when we fist arrived, where I met the Professor of Pathology who was doing some research work in the hospital. I started working with him, aftr which I received a scholarship to do a Masters by research. Tht’s how I began my career in research. We moved to Sydney when my husband got a job here in 1986. My son was born in 1985, so I stayed home for couple of years to look aftr him until he started going to daycare. Thn I started working again.

RR: Is anyone in your family in the same profession?
MA: No one is doing this type of work, but my grand-aunt was a gynaecologist.

RR: How does your family support you in your career?
MA: My son got married last year and my husband, being an academic himself, is very supportive of me. He is very well aware of the nature of a researchoriented job, which involves long hours, weekend work and travel overseas. When I am away, he manages things on his own for a few days at a time. I don’t think it would have happened without his support.

RR: As you investigated pancreatic cancer at a cellular level and worked on the spreading of cancer, what were your fidings and what advice would you give to the community about this?
MA: A lot of research has been conducted on other cancer types e.g. breast cancer, lung cancer etc.; but nothing much has been done about pancreatic cancer, which is one of the most deadly cancers with a fie-year survival rate of just six percent. Tht is because pancreatic cancer research has had very little funding in the past many years. But NSW Cancer Council made it a priority area a few years ago. We are hoping that things will change some more. Th problem with pancreatic cancer is that the symptoms can be very vague. However, with increasing awareness among the community and increased vigilance on the part of GPs, as well as signifiantly improved imaging techniques, early diagnosis is more likely. Our research has found that pancreatic cancer cells recruit normal cells from surrounding tissue to help them grow and spread. Ths was a novel concept at the time, because most of the work until then was focused only on the cancer cells themselves

RR: What are your future projects?
MA: Th next phase of our work is to stop the cancer cells working with normal cells. We are currently conducting pre-clinical studies that are anticipated to point towards a new combination therapy to help improve treatment outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer.

RR: What are your other interests and how do you cultivate and balance them with your work?
MA: I have a passion for everything! I am an active member of the Marathi Association of Sydney. I tarted learning Kathak late in the 90s aftr moving to Sydney. I did choreography for shows; one of the big shows was ‘Durga Ban Gai Gauri’. I have been providing programs for community radio, and have contributed to cultural events through dance choreography. I have also been fortunate enough to be in a position to advise and guide new migrants and other youngsters regarding potential careers in
academic/educational filds.

RR: What is your ‘mantra’ of success?
MA: I guess hard work, dedication, a deep interest in what you do, family support, a close circle of good friends, and of course, God’s grace are key factors. Additionally, one should be willing to keep an open mind to tackle life’s twists and turns, not be afraid to take up new opportunities and challenges, and always have a positive attitude

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