Immunology

Immunology

Scientist in lab holding sample tubes
The Immunology division asks how the many different types of immune response are regulated. Our aim is to improve vaccine performance and treatment of autoimmune and immunodeficient conditions, including type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease.

New genetic culprit in immunodeficiency

Common variable immune deficiency (CVID) is one of the most common forms of primary (inherited) immunodeficiency. People with CVID usually require lifelong therapy to supplement their immune system.

Dr Vanessa Bryant and Dr Charlotte Slade, with Professor Jo Douglass, head of immunology and allergy at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, have contributed to an international collaboration investigating the genetic causes of CVID. The team has identified that some people with CVID carry genetic defects that alter the NF-kappaB signalling pathway in cells. It is hoped that identifying disease-causing genetic changes in CVID will lead to more rapid and accurate diagnosis of this condition, as well as guiding personalised therapies in the future.

Catching diabetes-causing cells

A $60,000 Diabetes Australia Research Program grant will support Dr Charis Teh to determine whether rogue immune cells that attack the pancreas, causing type 1 diabetes, can be foiled.

Dr Teh hopes to pinpoint which genes control the immune attack by using CRISPR/Cas9 technology to put individual ‘suspect’ genes out of action. This will reveal which genes can speed up or slow down the process of diabetes formation. In the long term, it is hoped this research will give clues to new treatment strategies that could prevent the immune attack that is at the root of diabetes.

Switch for long-term immunity

Antibody-producing plasma cells are produced when our immune system is exposed to pathogens such as viruses or bacteria. The antibodies they secrete are crucial for long-term immunity.

Dr Kim Good-Jacobson, Professor David Tarlinton and colleagues discovered that a protein called Myb was essential for antibody-producing plasma cells to migrate into bone marrow, preserving them for many years or even decades. Without Myb, plasma cells remained in the blood stream and perished after a few days.

The research off ers hope that understanding how to activate Myb production in plasma cells may be the key to encouraging the immune system to develop long-term immunity for infections such as malaria.

Health impact

Cancers: leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma

Immune disorders: allergy, coeliac disease, lupus, primary immune deficiencies, type 1 diabetes

Infectious disease: influenza, vaccines

Other areas: personalised medicine, transplantation

Division head

Professor Phil Hodgkin

Lab heads

Professor Andrew Lew

Professor Ken Shortman

Emeritus Professor Jacques Miller

Dr Daniel Gray (jointly with Molecular Genetics of Cancer division)

Dr Shalin Naik (jointly with Molecular Medicine division)

Dr Joanna Groom (jointly with Molecular Immunology division)

Dr Edwin Hawkins

Dr Misty Jenkins

Dr Jason Tye-Din

Dr Bob Anderson, honorary

Division coordinator

Kim McIntosh