Revealed: our cellular guardians

Everyone has a unique identity and awareness of ‘self’ – and this identity has a biological counterpart at the cellular level. This cellular ‘awareness’ is mediated by genes in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) family, and these genes are the reason, for example, that transplanted organs are rejected unless efforts are made to match HLA types between donor and host.

HLA genes are the ones that vary the most between individuals, and they tag the surface of every cell in our body in a way that denotes precisely who and what we are as biologically individual.

There is, however, another side to these molecules, and it’s been an aspect that has baffled immunologists for decades.

Monash University researcher and Monash Health clinician Professor Richard Kitching explains that, normally, the immune system is trained to not attack ‘self’. Occasionally, this immune ‘tolerance’ breaks down and the result is a painful, life-changing or life-threatening autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and damages healthy tissue.

What has baffled immunologists, he says, is that certain HLA gene variants dramatically increase the risk of developing a particular autoimmune disease, while other HLA variants provide impressive levels of protection.

Now, Professor Kitching can explain the HLA effect on disease susceptibility with respect to Goodpasture disease – which was used as the research model – in which the patient’s immune system impairs kidney and lung function.

Even more importantly, the experimental systems developed during this research now provide an opportunity to develop better, cell-based therapies to protect against immune kidney diseases. The findings can also be used to test whether the new cell-based approach is applicable to other autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, he says.

Original article

Sweet success for A/Prof Stephanie Gras

Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute researcher Associate Professor Stephanie Gras has been honoured with a Georgina Sweet Award for Women in Quantitative Biomedical Science for excellence in the field.

Group leader and Monash Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, she was one of three women who won the award, which has a prize of $25,000.

“It’s a great recognition of my career so far and my work in biomedical research, particularly because the award application is reviewed by peers,” Associate Professor Gras said.

“It’s also great to have the opportunity to lead the way for women in science and make sure we can inspire young women to enter science as a career,” she said.

Associate Professor Gras, who is investigating how the immune system can be boosted to counter viruses including influenza and HIV, has several women in her team and plans to use part of the award to ensure they go to conferences next year.

“It gives me the opportunity to snowball the award to make my contribution to supporting women in science,” she said.


Original article

Jamie Rossjohn elected into the Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences

Monash University researcher Professor Jamie Rossjohn has been formally inducted into the Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS).

Being elected as a Fellow honours the important contribution Professor Rossjohn has made to health and medical research in Australia. Professor Rossjohn, ARC Laureate Fellow, is recognised internationally for being at the cutting-edge of advances in the field of immunology.

“On behalf of my team and I, I am delighted to receive recognition of my findings on immunity – research that has been conducted at Monash over the last 15 years.  I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and highlight the tireless work of the research assistants in my laboratory, key members of the team whose work underpins our endeavours,” Professor Rossjohn said.


More details about AAHMS elected fellows