Sterols and scuba diving: meet Isabelle Capell-Hattam

Isabelle Capell-Hattam is an accomplished PhD candidate in UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences (UNSW BABS) and a Woman in Maths and Science Champion. In her research, she is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms regulating cholesterol production in the human body.

Originally from Coffs Harbour on the north coast of New South Wales, Isabelle moved to Sydney to pursue an undergraduate science degree at UNSW. She became interested in human biochemistry during lectures from her current PhD supervisor Prof. Andrew Brown (UNSW BABS). She approached Prof. Brown to find out more about his research and decided to undertake several internships in his lab. She remained in the lab for her Honours year, where she was awarded the 2016 University Medal in Molecular and Cell Biology for her work. 

Isabelle worked as a research assistant before commencing her PhD in 2018 under Prof. Brown, receiving a competitive UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarship to undertake her research into the regulation of cholesterol production. Isabelle explains that the pathway for cholesterol production in the human body requires multiple enzymes, and she is interested in understanding how these enzymes are controlled. Isabelle is particularly interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms governing destruction of the enzymes, and the implications this has for cholesterol production.  

Isabelle’s research sounds complex and fascinating. She is one of the busiest PhD students I have ever met – and I’m not just referring to her lab work. Isabelle has been an avid scuba diver for over a decade. She has been involved with the university diving club during her time at UNSW, and in 2020 she became president of the UNSW Underwater Club. She enjoys exploring the coast, discovering the underwater ecosystem and meeting new people. Isabelle works at a Tenpin Bowling Alley where she manages competitions, partakes in a fortnightly sea shanty club with her friends and plays social netball. In her free time she enjoys being outdoors, going for coastal walks and reading books. Isabelle recently participated in a charity event called the Shitbox Rally to raise money for the Cancer Council. For this event, she drove a car worth less than $1000 from Alice Springs to the Gold Coast via the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her and her dad’s team raised over $10,000.

I asked Isabelle if she had any words of advice for young women who may be interested in pursuing a career in science. She recommends choosing a field you’re passionate about and not rushing into any major career decisions. 

To find out more about Isabelle’s research, follow her on Twitter and read her research articles.

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