Collaborative Research Network (CRN)

Associate Professor Stuart Berzins

Principal Research Fellow

Federation University Australia

A/Prof Stuart Berzins is researching the role of immune cells in the prevention of cancer and autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes. Through his partnership with the CRN he aims to create a regional hub for immunology research that will be unique in Australia.

While most of Australia’s 1000 immunologists work in major capital cities, A/Prof Berzins brings valuable knowledge and networks to regional Victoria. After receiving his PhD from Monash University, he undertook postdoctoral training and research at Harvard Medical School in Boston USA, and returned to Australia to study NKT cells at the University of Melbourne.

He is an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) R. D. Wright Fellow and has received several competitive grants to support his research efforts. A/Prof Berzins is also the Victorian/Tasmanian representative on the Australasian Society of Immunology (ASI) board and is a Council member of the Immunology Group of Victoria (IgV).

“With me I bring my established collaborative research networks with institutes such as the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital,” he said.

A/Prof Berzins has already established valuable relationships with Ballarat’s research community, including studies of cancer with BCRC Research Director Dr George Kannourakis, and researching the role of immune cells in atherosclerosis with FedUni’s Dr Fadi Charchar.

A/Prof Berzins considers his relationship with the CRN to be mutually beneficial for his own research and that of the wider regional research community. “Working with the CRN will formally connect me to researchers with different areas of expertise. This will enable us to tackle the major research challenges we face with a synergistic collaborative approach that is supported by the CRN initiative.” he said.

As a medical researcher attached to the Ballarat Cancer Research Centre, which is an affiliate of Federation University Australia, A/Prof Berzins’ research group is looking at the role of natural killer T (NKT) cells in human immunity. The clinical potential of NKT cells lies in their ability to rapidly release cytokines that regulate the overall immune response. Cytokines are small cell-signaling molecules that are important for intercellular communications, and cytokines released by NKT cells have been proven to promote or suppress different immune responses. A/Prof Berzins is a world leader in studies of NKT cells and regularly publishes his research and review articles in leading scientific journals and at national and international conferences. NKT cell defects are implicated in the development of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease and asthma, and there is enormous clinical interest in the potential to target these cells in new NKT cell-based therapies. Clinical trials are underway where NKT cells are targeted to treat patients with cancer and A/Prof Berzins is collaborating with several teams (including Prof George Kannourakis’ group at the BCRC) to analyse the NKT cell responses of those patient groups.