Congrats to Wael and Adam: Winners of the Early Career Researcher Publication Prizes for 2021

The Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences (MNHS) is committed to developing Faculty-based Early Career Researcher (ECR)* initiatives, to assist our ECRs in the development of their research careers. In addition to the emphasis placed on a strong track record in research publications and competitive funding, there is also the requirement for ECRs to secure competitive Prizes & Awards. In support  of  this,  the  Faculty Research Office offers the MNHS ECR Publication Prize.

*In FMNHS, an Early Career Researcher (ECR) is defined as academic staff (Levels A-C) within 10 years of their PhD conferral (taking career disruptions into account).

ECRs are invited to nominate one research publication from the previous year for the MNHS ECR Publication Prize. Up to six ECR Publication Prizes are awarded per year, a maximum of one prize per discipline:

  1. The Robert Porter Prize for Laboratory Based Sciences
  2. The John McNeil Prize for Public Health Research
  3. The Henry Krum Prize for Clinical Sciences
  4. The Jenny Keating Prize for Nursing and Allied Health
  5. The Leon Piterman Prize for Social and Educational Research
  6. The Jenny Redman Prize for Psychological Sciences

In addition, up two Faculty prizes are also awarded for the best publications from ECRs who hold an externally-funded Fellowship.

Congratulations to our 2021 Early Career Researcher Publication Prize Winners

Robert Porter Early Career Researcher Publication Prize for Laboratory Based Sciences
Dr Wael Awad, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, School of Biomedical Sciences, Biomedicine Discovery Institute.
The molecular basis underpinning the potency and specificity of MAIT cell antigens Nature Immunology

Wael says
It is a great honour to receive the 2021 Robert Porter ECR Publication Prize for Laboratory Sciences. I am incredibly grateful to the fantastic team of collaborators who worked together so effectively across multiple research platforms and institutes in this exciting study. In particular, I’d like to express my sincerest appreciation to my mentor Professor Jamie Rossjohn for his enduring efforts and support throughout this project’s journey. In this study, we used a range of innovative structural biology and immunology approaches to unearth the molecular principles underpinning how microbial metabolites could be presented by the antigen-presenting molecule MR1 to specialized T cells, called MAIT cells, triggering an effective immune response against the invading microbes. This research provided an important framework for rationally designing improved MAIT inhibitors and activating ligands that could pave the way for the development of novel T-cell therapies. To help promote the science explored in this paper, I intend to use this prize towards travel costs for an international meeting next year.

Early Career Researcher Fellows Publication Prize for Laboratory Based Research
Dr Adam Shahine, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, School of Biomedical Sciences, Biomedicine Discovery Institute.
A single-domain bispecific antibody targeting CD1d and the NKT T-cell receptor induces a potent antitumor response Nature Cancer

Adam says
It is an absolute honour to be the recipient of the 2021 ECR Publication Prize – Fellows Publication Prize for Laboratory Sciences. I would like to acknowledge all co-authors and collaborators who took part in this exciting study. In particular, my co-first author Roeland Lameris from Amsterdam UMC, who partook in a lab stay within our laboratory for this project, as well as my key supervisor and mentor Professor Jamie Rossjohn. This study was a fantastic collaborative effort between academic and industrial institutes including Lava Therapeutics, Amsterdam UMC, Monash University, and the University of Melbourne, which married together a multidisciplinary body of work to describe a novel immuno-oncology approach for the potential treatment of rare cancers. Here, we have described the bispecific properties of a VHH antibody, supported by cellular, biophysical, structural, and mouse model data, that target and boost the interaction between two key immune cell receptors within the CD1d-Natural Killer T cell axis, resulting in a more effective immune response towards multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia. These new findings will serve as a model for the potential generation of new and effective treatments towards a broad range of cancers. I aim to use these funds to attend the 16th Congress of the Federation of Asian and Oceanic Biochemists and Molecular Biologists to be held in Christchurch, NZ, in November 2021.

 

Adapted from The Pulse News from the MNHS Research office

“My Goodness” – exploring what your digestive and immune system looks, sounds and feels like

Oh My Goodness!  *(My Goodness Me)

In celebration of National Science Week 2021, the United Nations International Year of Fruit and Vegetables and the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, Monash University is launching a multisensory book and exhibition titled ‘My Goodness’ – a tactile and interactive exploration of the science behind gut health, nutrition, and immunity.

Designed for low vision, blind and general audiences alike, the books will read to you and also entertain.

Described as an ‘entire multisensory art exhibition in a single book’, they  are stationed on interactive reading benches using optical scanning technology (fiducials) and webcams enabling the wonderful world of the gut biota to come alive.

Through tactile artworks, audio sonifications, braille-inspired protein molecules, large print, audio narration, and braille supplements, audiences can explore the Books against a backdrop of synthesised music evoking molecular protein foldings and the sounds of the gut biota.

The books have been created by Dr Erica Tandori, legally blind Sensory Science Artist in Residence at the Rossjohn Lab, Monash University Biomedicine Discovery Institute, in collaboration with Stu Favilla, Musician and Lecturer in Interaction Design at Swinburne University of Technology, School of Design and Architecture.

They contain contributions by some of Monash University’s most eminent and world-renowned experts in the field of gut health, nutrition and immunity.

“So much more can be expressed when you add sounds,” says Dr Tandori.  “It really does help to support what’s happening from the visual and tactile level when you can listen to the sounds of a protein or the way microbes are interacting while you are feeling the sculptures and exploring the artworks.

“Stu has brought an amazing plethora of audio design skills to this project including sonification of the artworks, 3D audio and beautiful modular synthesis music evoking the inner universe and machinations of human digestion!”

Mr Favilla adds: “Erica’s tactile artworks are not 3D prints but rather reference a language of touch that we are all familiar with.  Her artworks comprise food grains, clothing materials, wools and many other fascinating textures and multisensory experiences.

“They are driven by her desire to communicate the wonders of molecular biology through her unique artistic understanding and perceptions. The books reference a legacy of prior exhibition knowledge but the exhibition itself is now spatially encapsulated, all in one neat package.”

The Books have also inspired the creation of a pop song called “My Goodness”, co-written by Erica and Stu with Erica singing vocals and Stu performing all instrumentation, rapping and producing the track.

“We hope we can get kids of all ages to sing about the wonders of the gut biota. My Goodness is possibly the greatest song ever written about the gut biota, immunity, fruit and vegetables,” Dr Tandori said.

Following the Launch event, the books are intended for roving exhibitions across metropolitan and regional schools, community groups and disability educational centres in Victoria.

An online version of the books is also proposed as a COVID-19 contingency plan with a range of virtual activities to support the exhibition.

The My Goodness: Interactive Multisensory Science Book Launch and Exhibition is a free online event that will be held on Friday August 20  from 9 am.

This initiative is supported by the National Science Week Inspiring Australia Grant.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Spanning six discovery programs across Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Development and Stem Cells, Infection and Immunity, Metabolism, Diabetes and Obesity, and Neuroscience, Monash BDI is one of the largest biomedical research institutes in Australia.  Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.

For media enquiries please contact:

Wendy Smith

Media and Communications Manager

Monash University

E: wendy.smith1@monash.edu

T: +61 (0) 425 725 836

For more Monash media stories, visit our news and events site

Monash researchers make fundamental advance in understanding T cell immunity

Monash University researchers have provided a fundamental advance regarding how T cells become activated when encountering pathogens such as viruses.

The recent study published in Science, co-led by Professor Nicole La GrutaProfessor Jamie Rossjohn and Professor Stephanie Gras with first author Dr Pirooz Zareie from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, have found that T Cells need to recognise pathogens in a particular orientation in order to receive a strong activating signal.

T cells play a key role in the immune system by eliminating invading pathogens, such as viruses, and it is crucial to understand the factors that determine how and why T cells become activated after recognizing these pathogens.

T cells express on their surface a T cell receptor (TCR) that recognizes and binds to virus fragments (antigens) presented by infected cells.  This recognition event can lead to T cell activation and killing of infected cells.

“The central issue is that there are millions of different T cell receptors (TCRs) in the human body, and a vast array of viruses, making it difficult to understand the rules around how T cell receptor recognition of a virus drives T cell activation. Indeed, it is a problem that has remained contentious for over 25 years” says Professor La Gruta.

“Our study has shown that the orientation in which the T cell receptor binds is a primary factor determining whether the T cell receives an activating signal,” Professor La Gruta said.

“This is an advance in our fundamental understanding of how a T cell needs to ‘see’ pathogenic antigens in order to be activated,” she said. “It has clarified a critical mechanism essential for effective T cell immunity. It is also relevant to the ongoing development of immunotherapies that aim to boost the activation of T cells.”

Dr Pirooz Zareie stated: “a combination of technologies, including super-resolution microscopy, X-ray crystallography at the Australian Synchrotron, biochemical assays and using in vitro and in vivo experimental models from a variety of labs led to the findings.”

The study represented a cross-disciplinary collaboration between researchers from the University of Utah, National University of Singapore, University of New South Wales and Monash University.

TCR-pMHC recognition - through the looking glass. The image shows a brightly colored canonical interaction between TCR and pMHC which is conducive to signal transduction. The faded mirror image shows a reversed TCR-pMHC interaction which is unable to support signal transduction and thus T cell activation. (Created by Dr. Erica Tandori (Rossjohn lab))

TCR-pMHC recognition – through the looking glass. The image shows a brightly colored canonical interaction between TCR and pMHC which is conducive to signal transduction. The faded mirror image shows a reversed TCR-pMHC interaction which is unable to support signal transduction and thus T cell activation. (Created by Dr. Erica Tandori, Rossjohn lab)

Read the full paper in Science titled: Canonical T cell Receptor Docking on peptide-MHC is essential for T cell signaling.DOI: 10.1126/science.abe9124

Original article

Also see ARC Research Highlights

Congratulations to Jia Jia and Claerwen whose study on Rheumatoid Arthritis was published today in Science Immunology

New understanding of the deleterious immune response in rheumatoid arthritis

Researchers within the Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) at Monash University have made a breakthrough in understanding the role played by high-risk immune genes associated with the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The findings, published in Science Immunology, were the result of a seven-year collaboration led by Monash University, involving Janssen Biotech, Inc., Janssen Cilag Pty Ltd., Janssen Research & Development, LLC and the Karolinska Institute, Sweden.

Certain immune system genes, called Human Leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DR4, cause an increased susceptibility to RA.  In this study, using mice genetically modified to express the human HLA-DR4 molecule, the team examined, at the molecular and cellular levels, how T cells recognise these HLA-DR4 molecules. The team also showed that highly similar T cell receptors, likely with similar recognition characteristics, are also present in “RA-susceptible” humans expressing these HLA molecules.

“This suggests that there may be an immune signature of RA development, providing a potential avenue for diagnostic development or a window of opportunity for therapeutic development,” says Dr Hugh Reid, who co-led the study with Professor Jamie Rossjohn and Professor Nicole La Gruta at Monash University.

With the assistance of the Australian Synchrotron, the researchers were able to determine the structure of the molecular complexes that form during the interaction between T cell receptors and altered joint proteins bound to HLA-DR4. Armed with this information, they were able to work out what was important in this deleterious T cell response.

“This research is an excellent example of how collaborative efforts between major academic and industrial partners can lead to breakthroughs in basic science that in turn provide avenues for the development of better therapeutics for common diseases,” says Dr Reid.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease affecting about one per cent of the world’s population. It is characterised by swollen, painful, stiff joints, and consequently, restricted mobility in sufferers. By working out how T cells recognise altered joint proteins in complex with ‘susceptibility’ HLA molecules, Monash scientists have advanced our understanding of how these HLA molecules may predispose individuals to the development of disease. The insight provided may greatly assist in achieving the long-term goal of producing personalised medicines and/or preclinical interventions to treat RA.

Read the full paper in Science Immunology titled: The shared susceptibility epitope of HLA-DR4 binds citrullinated self-antigens and the TCR

Original article

See also:

New hope for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers as Melbourne researchers make new discovery

ASBMB Today: Unravelling the mind’s eye — science through a novel lens

Erica’s story and our Sensory Science initiative is featured on page 33 of the April issue of ASBMB Today: Science & Art.

 

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View article online

Original story by Kamalika Saha in ASBMB Today : Science & Art