Faculty of Science and Technology

Immunology

Campus: Mt Helen and Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute (Ballarat).

Discipline: Biomedical Science

Research Area: Immunology

Supervisor(s):

Prof Stuart Berzins (email: sberzins@federation.edu.au).

I am an experienced Immunology researcher with 47 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals. My laboratory provides students with a pathway to a biomedical career through laboratory-based Honours and PhD projects conducted under my supervision. I have supervised 11 Honours and 8 PhD students and many of my students now work as postdoctoral researchers in biomedical institutes in Australia and overseas.

Dr Morgan Wallace email: mwallace@federation.edu.au)

I have worked as a postdoctoral research scientist at several leading research institutes including the University of Massachusetts (USA) the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Institute in Melbourne.  I am current collaborating with researchers at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute (FECRI) in Ballarat to investigate the role of immune system in fighting cancer, with a particular focus on haematological malignancies.

Background: Our research group works in the area of Cancer Immunology. Our research aims to understand how the immune system changes in cancer patients and use this to develop new treatment strategies that will harness the power of the immune system to fight cancer. Our specific focus is on the role of innate-like T cells in cancer.

Innate-like T cells include NKT cells, mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells and γδ T cells. These cells regulate immune responses of other cells and there is evidence that they may have important roles in anti-cancer immune responses. For example, there is striking evidence that NKT cells are essential for effective anti-tumour immunity. Mouse and human studies have shown that NKT cell deficiencies are common in patients with cancer. Our own recent studies have extended these observations and identified previously unknown abnormalities affecting other innate T cell subsets in several patient groups.

Up to three honours projects will be available, however there is no guarantee that all three will run next year.

Specific Honours project areas:

(1) Characterising the response of innate-like T cells This project will involve exposing innate like T cells to different forms of stimulation, to define their potential impact in cancer immunity. Students will stimulate T cells isolated from human blood and tissues and analyse their functional responses to determine how these T cells might influence immune responses and whether they could be harnessed in immune-based therapies for treating cancer.  Several characteristics of these cells will be studied, including proliferation and cytokine production.

(2) Identifying cancer antigens recognised by innate like T cells. T cells need to interact with antigen presenting cells, such as dendritic cells and macrophages to become activated. This project aims to identify novel cancer antigens that are capable of activating innate like T cells. Understanding what antigens are being recognised in the cancer environment may allow us to develop therapies that better stimulate immune responses against the cancer cells.

(3) Characterising immune changes in specific types of cancer. Analysing patient samples from different stages of disease, can reveal immune changes that are associated with disease progression. This type of characterisation provides useful insights into the impact of cancers on normal immune function and may identify novel prognostic markers that can be used to improve diagnosis and assist with the selection of appropriate treatment strategies for patients.