Immunology

Dendritic cell (immune cell) visualised using fluorescence microscopy.

Research Focus 

Members of the Immunology division aim to understand the complex processes underlying the immune response. This area of research has a rich history at the institute owing in large part to the pioneering influence and inspirational theories of former director, Sir Macfarlane Burnet. Today the latest molecular and cellular tools are being applied to achieve the goal of targeted and rational methods for manipulating the immune response. Treatments and methods are being sought to both promote immunity for improved vaccinations, and diminish immunity when suffering autoimmune disease or allergic symptoms.

Overview

Cells of the immune system arise from stem cells that progressively change and develop into the many different mature cell types. Once mature, each cell type is activated by detection of foreign material to play a highly specialized role in immunity. Detection of a pathogen also leads to extensive communication between the many cell types that strongly influence the outcome of the immune response. In the Immunology division we are exploring the development of immune cells from stem cell to mature cell, the mode and impact of communication between the responding cell types and how messages are received and integrated within the immune cells. Members of the division are also pursuing the development of computer simulations of immune responses that incorporate molecular, cellular and system-level behaviour. This interdisciplinary and multi-level approach to solving the complex problems presented by the immune system ensures the work of the division is highly interactive and interconnected, offering an exciting research and learning environment. Our collective goal is to find methods to manipulate the immune response based on a rational understanding of how the system works. This goal, though difficult, is clearly within sight.

Our experimental studies are concentrated in four broad areas:

  1. The biology of the dendritic cell and how it relates to, and manipulates the T cell;
  2. Transcriptional regulation of cellular fate decisions – including B cell, T cell and dendritic cell development;
  3. B cell biology, particularly the development of antibody secreting plasma cells; and
  4. Quantitative measurements of B and T cell regulation by multiple signals, provided alone and in combination.

This past year, the fascinating dendritic cell (DC) has revealed more of its secrets. Ongoing studies have shown that an infection induces a general change in DC behaviour that inhibits our ability to mount an attack against more than one infection at a time. Furthermore, new molecular receptors have been identified on DC that enable discrimination of functional subsets and that are being tested for their ability to target foreign material to the DC and thereby boost the subsequent immune response.

Antibody is an important protection mechanism against infectious disease, although many diseases are associated with dysregulation of antibody or the cells that produce them. We believe the cell responsible for producing antibody, the B lymphocyte, is one of the most versatile experimental targets in modern biology. Studies in the Immunology division continue to explore the role of key transcriptional regulators, including Blimp-1, bcl-6, OBF1 and Oct-2 in B cell fate decisions. How differentiation decisions interleave with other key cellular events, division and death, and how they are affected by genetic changes, and external signals, are also being carefully dissected both in vitro and during an immune response following antigen exposure in situ.

All of these experimental studies contribute to our long-term goal of developing accurate computer simulations of the immune response.

Immunology PhD and Honours student research projects

Faculty Members

Professor Phil Hodgkin (Division Head)

Associate Professor Andrew Lew

Professor Ken Shortman

Professor David Tarlinton

Emeritus Professor Jacques Miller

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

Dr Shalin Naik (jointly with Molecular Medicine division)

Honorary Faculty Member: Dr Bob Anderson

Scientific Coordinator: Kim McIntosh BSc(Hons) Mon MEnvSc Mon - contact Immunology division

Administrative Officer: Renata Cubas

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