Dr Francine Marques
Position: Group Leader and National Heart Foundation Future Fellow Leader
Affiliation: Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia
What is your role at your work?
I am a senior post-doctoral researcher and group leader, but I am also a supervisor, a mentor and a mentee.
How did you get interested in your career path?
Coming from a family of clinicians and not wanting to be one, but still wanting to help people, I dedicated my career to research into molecular genetics, which I have been passionate since high school. I was lucky to have an encouraging and supportive PhD supervisor that inspired and pushed me, and that is how I ended up in the hypertension field.
What are you most proud of in your career or otherwise?
I am very proud of so many things in my career and how far I have come in this very competitive field, but definitely something I am very proud of was completing a PhD in a second language, away from my family and loved ones. I am also very proud that my early career research application ranked 2nd overall in our national fellowship application system (the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia) – it is always good to see that hard work pays off!
What important career challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
Three years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I was in the middle of my early career fellowship moving laboratories at the time. It was very hard to do part-time research while receiving cancer care, which included 2 surgeries and 5 months of chemotherapy. The best thing I did, however, was to continue to work as it was a great distraction from all the cancer world I had been dragged into. My diagnosis and the lack of energy pushed me to become more focused and more productive, and I believe an overall better researcher. It also challenge me to get out of the lab and interact more with patients and the public, which I have discovered I am passionate about and now continue to do so.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self that I am not an impostor, to believe in myself and (sometimes) to learn to say ‘no’!
I am still working on these things thou!
Highlight your most significant research contributions and publications (3-5) - if relevant to you.
- My most exciting findings involve our study published in Circulation (Marques et al., 2017 PMID: 27927713). This study highlighted the important role played by dietary fibre and the gut microbiota in promoting cardiovascular health. We have now reviewed this topic in detail in Nature Reviews Cardiology (PMID: 28836619).
- With Prof Gavin Lambert’s team, I identified that the SNP rs7194256 in the 3’ untranslated region (UTR) of the noradrenaline transporter (NET) gene is more prevalent in diseases where NET impairment is evident, such as hypertension, anxiety and depression (Marques et al., Mol Psychiatry 20017 PMID: 27046647). I determined that the T allele of this particular SNP generated a microRNA binding site for miR-19a-3p resulting in impairment of transporter function. This is relevant because a defect in NET function may potentiate the sympathetic neurochemical signal, predisposing individuals with affective diseases to increased risk of cardiovascular disease development.
- With Prof Fadi Charchar and Prof Stephen Harrap, I determined the role of lipocalin-2 (LCN2/NGAL) in the origins of cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure (Marques et al., JAHA 2017 PMID: 28615213). This study was truly translational, spanning from several independent models of disease, in vitro studies and translation of the findings in 2 different populations. It supports that LCN2 has a central role in the ontogeny of cardiac hypertrophy.
Have you had any significant career mentors? If yes, please provide further details.
I am very lucky as I have a team of wonderful mentors - and I am so grateful to all of them! They have been great supporters of my career development – I honestly don’t think I could do it without them. Most of my mentors are members of the ISH, such as Prof Gavin Lambert, Prof Fadi Charchar, Prof Stephen Harrap and Prof Geoff Head. My PhD supervisor, Prof Brian Morris, was also a great mentor to me and was fundamental for the beginning of my career in the hypertension. A few years ago I realised all my mentors were male, so I decided to ask a female researcher, A/Prof Julie McMullen, to mentor me, and it was a great decision as it changed my perspective on a lot of issues women face. I also have several supporters who are not necessarily my mentors but support my career development – one example is Dr Anastasia Susie Mihailidou who nominated me to this spotlight feature. My main advice for other women is not to be afraid to ask to someone to mentor you.
How can we support the next generation of women scientists?
We need to build platforms for women to be successful in this very competitive field. This includes opportunities for networking, which the ISH does a fantastic job, and strong mentoring. This can come from their own institutions or from the ISH Mentoring Scheme.
We also need to be aware of our own unconscious bias. We need to ensure that when organising our events and conferences that consciously include women and make sure they get invited to be part of the organising committee, chair sessions, give talks and are nominated to awards. If we don’t do that, we are most likely unconsciously excluding them from the society and hypertension research.