Home' InDaily : January 12th 2012 Contents Born in war-torn Sierra Leone in 1988, Ms Gbla can still
remember the moment her father was shot dead before her
eyes when she was just five years old.
"There are some things you never forget," Ms Gbla, now
"It's one thing to be a child and see people killing each other
but it's another thing entirely to watch your own flesh and
blood die, to know you don't have a single picture of them,
to have their memories fade and the sound of their voice
"I lost my innocence at a very young age and from that
moment on I saw the world in a different light."
Almost eight years after the civil war broke out in 1991, Ms
Gbla, her mother and sister finally managed to flee Sierra
Leone "with just the clothes on our backs" and sought refuge
in neighbouring Gambia.
They stayed there for three years before migrating to Australia
in 2001 under the country's refugee program.
Battling chronic fatigue and post traumatic stress disorder,
it took some time for the then 13-year-old to adjust to the
Australian way of life.
"People think just because you cross the border and come
to Australia you've landed in paradise but we were carrying
baggage -- unseen baggage that doesn't just go away,"
"I was just a traumatised kid trying to stay in school and keep
up with everyone else, which wasn't easy considering English
was my third language."
Against all odds, she completed her secondary education and is
now about to enter her final year of a combined degree in Law
and International Studies at Flinders University.
Besides being a diligent student, daughter and sister, Ms Gbla
has become a role model, mentor and advocate for hundreds
of teenagers in Australia and beyond.
Whenever she's not on campus, the seasoned traveller tours
the country and the world, delivering awe-inspiring speeches
at schools, universities and conferences.
A passionate advocate for all minority groups -- "I'm not just
limited to the refugee story" -- Ms Gbla also advises on a
number of boards and committees and spends what free
time she has volunteering for various organisations including
Multicultural Youth SA and Shine SA.
These acts of selflessness earned Ms Gbla the title of 2011
Young South Australian of the Year in November.
"I don't think I deserved it more than anyone else, I think we're
all doing what we can to make SA great but for me it's always
been about giving back to the place that's given me so much,"
While her passion for the plight of refugees is clear, Ms Gbla's
eyes become extra bright when she talks about her latest
project -- a magazine for young African women.
Chocolate Magazine will cover the usual topics of fashion,
health and beauty but between the pages will be a more serious
side, tackling such issues as female genital mutilation, bullying
and domestic violence.
"I want this magazine to be something these young women
can relate to and take ownership of because they deserve it,"
Ms Gbla said.
"These are young women who have been raped, who look in the
mirror and want to kill themselves, who feel like they're covered
in blood, other people's blood, who wake up in the middle of
the night thinking a bomb has been dropped on them, only to
remember they're not in Africa anymore.
"These are the stories I want to tell, not of victims but survivors,
people who are choosing to live day by day and I want to help
them in that journey."
Ms Gbla is now looking for sponsors to get behind Chocolate
Magazine, as well as photographers, editors, designers
and writers to mentor the African women involved in the
"I'm not looking for recognition or a fancy job at the end of my
degree, I just want to know every night when I go to bed I've
made some small difference in the world -- that's my life goal,
my destiny," she said.
into a positive
Khadija Gbla has seen things
no child should endure.
Khadija Gbla with Young South Australian of the Year Award
Photo: Advantage SA
Senior Research Fellow Dr Robyn Meech from Flinders
Clinical Pharmacology has just won a $695,000 grant from the
Australian Research Council's prestigious Future Fellowships
scheme to investigate a way to make old stem cells new again
by modifying their environment.
Based on evidence from animal studies, Dr Meech said
old muscle stem cells can be reprogrammed to act like
young, healthy stem cells when they are placed in a young
"Research has shown that when you put an old cell into a
young environment, that environment -- or niche -- will send
signals to the cell membrane to tell it to act like a young cell,"
Dr Meech said.
"These signals determine how the cell functions but they're
modifiable, so the idea is that if we give old cells in an old
environment the same signal that's sent to cells in young
environments then the old cells will behave young," she said.
By understanding how stems cells and their niche interact, Dr
Meech said older cells could be reprogrammed to better repair
themselves and increase muscle mass -- resulting in particular
benefits to the elderly and people with muscle-wasting diseases
such as muscular dystrophy.
"If we can use a drug, for example, to reproduce the signal that's
sent to cells in young environments we might be able to trick
the old cell
into thinking it's in a
young and healthy environment so it
will behave accordingly," she said.
"The other alternative is to find a way to send stem cells
through the blood vessels to hone in on where they're needed
but that raises the question of how the cells would know where
Although the investigation aims to discover new therapies for
disease and age-related muscle degeneration, the Future Fellow
said her research could also apply to stem cell reprogramming in
other areas of the body such as the brain and heart.
"In general, tissues share common signalling mechanisms that
make cells behave in a certain way, so this research could also be
very important for, say, cardiac repair," Dr Meech said.
"But when it comes to muscle stem cells, it's not a really widely
investigated area in Australia and although people have been
trying to find treatments for muscle-wasting diseases for years,
we still don't have anything effective," she said.
"I think that underscores the fact that we still need more basic
information about how the stem cells and their niche talk to
Tricking old muscle cells into thinking
and behaving like they are young,
fit and healthy is the main aim of a
four-year research project fresh out
of Flinders University.
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