Miles Horton

Miles Horton

Student with supervisor in the lab
Miles Horton with his Honours supervisor
Dr Susanne Heinzel

Immune T cells are a critical component of our immune defenses, orchestrating protective and long-lasting immunity to infections. As an Honours student, Mr Miles Horton examined how these cells acquire their disease-fighting functions. 

Miles’ Honours studies helped to explain how armies of T cells inherit certain traits from their parent cell. For this he was awarded both the 2016 University of Melbourne Dean’s Honours Award as the top Bachelor of Biomedicine Honours student as well as our Colman Speed Award.

Following T cell fate

T cells are produced by the thymus, with each cell recognising a unique molecule. Should that molecule be part of a virus or bacterium invading the body, it will activate the corresponding T cell. 

Working with Dr Susanne Heinzel and Professor Phil Hodgkin, Miles used a novel fluorescent cell labeling technique that allowed him to follow the fate of individual T cells and their progeny through several rounds of cell division.

When a T cell is activated, it will divide multiple times to generate an army of T cells that launch an immediate immune response, but also produce ‘memory’ cells that are provide long-term protection, Miles said. 

“We now have a better understanding of how T cells operate to achieve the remarkable level of diversity required for effective immune responses,” he said.

“In the long-term, this research may contribute to treatments that harness the immune system to treat infections, as well as diseases such as cancer and autoimmunity.”

A formative experience

Miles said his Honours placement was his first experience of laboratory research. “My year at the Institute was a formative experience,” he said. “The opportunity to learn how to rigorously design experiments and interpret data was deeply rewarding.

“It was also thoroughly enjoyable to learn from a wide array of talented scientists at the Institute. The willingness of staff and students to dedicate their time and expertise to help others learn is a great attribute of Institute life.”

Miles' next step has been medical studies at the University of Melbourne, but he will continue to build his research skills. “From 2018 I will undertake a PhD at the Institute, before completing my medical training,” he said. "I hope to eventually become a clinician-scientist working in the field of haematology."