Darren Saunders

Favourite Thing: I love discovering new things about the way our bodies work, and what goes wrong in disease. I get to travel to loads of interesting places and met some really smart and interesting people, even the odd Nobel Prize winner.



Heathcote High School, Sutherland Public School


University of Wollongong, University of NSW

Work History:

Garvan Institue of Medical Research, British Columbia Cancer Centre and University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)


Garvan Institue of Medical Research

Current Job:

I lead a research group studying the molecular biology and genetics of cancer

Me and my work

We’re trying to figure out what makes tumour cells different from normal ones, so we can design better ways to treat cancer.

We study a cellular garbage disposal and recycling system called the “ubiquitin” pathway. Cells use this system to control everything from division and growth, response to hormones, and use of energy (metabolism). Cancer cells seem to have various defects in this pathway that make it a good target for new drugs. These targetted drugs will be more effective and have fewer side effects than the ones we currently use for cancer therapy.

We use a number of molecular tools in our research: we can measure how different proteins talk to each other, switch individual genes on and off, and make “glow in the dark” proteins to watch their behaviour in living cells.

My Typical Day

I’ll spend time planning experiments and looking over lab data with my students and other researchers, reading work of other scientists, writing papers or talking about my research, drinking coffee, and if I’m really lucky some time to just sit and think.

What I'd do with the money

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

inquisitive, persistent, creative

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

Hard to pick between skiing down a mountain in Colorado late at night under a full moon, or night diving with Manta rays in Hawaii

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

become a wildly famous (Noble winning) scientist, visit Antarctica, go heli-skiing

What did you want to be after you left school?

alternated between pilot or scientist, still trying to figure it out really

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

plenty of times but thankfully not for anything serious – usually talking too much in class

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I’d like to think that’s still to come…

Tell us a joke.

Q: what do you call alternative medicine that works? A: medicine