Inspirational Ipswich neuroscientist nominated for Young Australian of the Year

From humble beginnings as a Pharmacy Technician in Goodna, Dr Heidi Walkden has been nominated for Queensland’s Young Australian of the Year after achieving international recognition for her incredible discoveries and promotion of women in science.

Dr Walkden’s ground-breaking research has identified a new path by which bacteria can quickly move from the nasal cavity to the brain and spinal cord, which may be a contributor to conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

She has also shown that an injury to the inside of the nasal cavity can increase the bacterial invasion of the brain via the nose-to-brain pathway. These injuries are common and can be caused by cold viruses or innocuous injuries like a nosebleed.

In recognition of her research, she was named in the Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 list in the category of Healthcare and Science.

Dr Walkden said she first became interested in the brain after competing in the Australian Brain Bee Challenge in Grade 10 and is continually inspired by the people she meets throughout her research’s journey.

“Learning about their lives and experiences, particularly those with spinal cord injuries, makes me grateful for the things that I have,” Dr Walkden said.

“Feeling the sand beneath my feet at the beach always reminds me of those who can’t, thus it has been wonderful to have been a part of a team that is also working towards a treatment for spinal cord injuries.

“I greatly appreciated my time working in the Goodna pharmacy learning about not just medicines, but the complexities of life from the lived experiences of the community.

“It was truly wonderful to meet people in all stages of life and to be a part of their journey over the years.”

Dr Walkden is also an award-winning presenter and science communicator. She has won numerous awards for her presentations, scientific photos and posters, as well as directed, filmed and edited Griffith University’s first scientific virtual laboratory tour.

Alongside her neuroscience research, Dr Walkden has worked on the ‘That’s RAD! Science’ engagement outreach project, producing engaging children’s books that promote women in science.

“I recently returned to my school in Goodna, Westside Christian College, as a guest speaker for a careers breakfast and I was so inspired by how many were interested in pursuing science careers.

“I have been able to experience so many things that I never imagined that I would do. I hope I can inspire them to take a risk and to chase their dreams – you never know where the path may lead.”

Dr Walkden was recently selected for the Australian Science Policy Fellowship Program, run by the Office of the Chief Scientist, and is now working within the Australian Government Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Seventeen Queenslanders are in the running to be named the Queensland Local Hero, Young Australian, Senior Australian or Australian of the Year.

The 4 award recipients from Queensland will be announced on the evening of 11 November during a ceremony in Brisbane. They will then join the other state and territory recipients as national finalists for the national awards announcement on 25 January 2022.

Dr Walkden said it was incredibly humbling to be recognised amongst so many other remarkable Australians.

“One of the best things about growing up in Ipswich is the strong community spirit and bond.

“I have been overwhelmed with kind words and support from the whole community over the last few weeks which has been such a humbling experience.”

Do you know someone who goes above and beyond? Nominations for the Ipswich Australia Day Awards are open until 13 November.

For more information and to nominate an Ipswich hero, click here.

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