Sophia reflects on her Rossjohn Laboratory Graduate Disability Internship experience

Making science accessible to people with diverse needs is an important mission of the Rossjohn Laboratory in the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute. The lab offers student scholarships and graduate internships to people with disabilities in order to broaden the diversity of people engaged in scientific discovery and to offer an inclusive opportunity to gain career experience in biomedical research.

Sophia Ladanyi recently completed her time in the lab’s Graduate Disability Internship Program and wrote some reflections about her experience.

Here’s what she had to say:

“I was offered an Internship as an Administrative Assistant in the Rossjohn Laboratory, working under the guidance and supervision of Project Manager Jennifer Huynh and artist-in-residence Dr Erica Tandori. From the beginning Jennifer and Erica made me feel welcome by helping me set up my computer and making me feel relaxed. I also felt comfortable and part of the lab team by getting to meet the Founder, Professor Jamie Rossjohn.

Rossjohn Laboratory interns Sean Christopher, Sophia Ladanyi, Rhiannon Thorneloe, Peter Knice.

Rossjohn Laboratory interns Sean Christopher, Sophia Ladanyi, Rhiannon Thorneloe, Peter Knice.

Erica and Jennifer had such a pleasant and endearing manner I felt at ease working with them. As for myself as someone with a disability, I was accommodated for by working set hours, 9am to 2.30pm on regular days, and having breaks from using my computer as needed.

My role as an assistant to the Artist in Residence was to take part in preparing for the recent Monash Sensory Science Exhibition – Autoimmunity. I learnt how science can meet art, especially for people with blindness and low vision. I made numerous artworks that represented human cells, such as white blood cells neutrophils and macrophages. It was great to see these artworks made into Sensory Science Books ready for the exhibition.

On the day of the exhibition, I showed guests to the main Auditorium area. One of the guests had a guide dog and a carer with her and showing them to the Auditorium made me feel like I was contributing to the exhibition in an important way.

I was honoured to have been filmed for the video of the exhibition. I was asked a series of questions where I talked about my experience as an intern and what I had learned from the exhibition. I highlighted how the artwork in the exhibition conveyed science in a new and exciting way.

I found it most inspiring, as someone with a disability, that one of the exhibition guests who was blind and also a current student at Monash University, has subsequently been offered an internship at the Rossjohn Lab.”

See Sophia in the Monash Sensory Science Exhibition video:

Congrats Jamie on your Visiting Professor appointment at the University of Oxford

Welcome to the new RDM Visiting Professors

RDM warmly welcomes two new Visiting Professors this term:

  • Jamie Rossjohn joins the department as Visiting Professor of Structural Immunology, and
  • Martin Young joins as Visiting Professor of Cardiac Science.

Professor Rossjohn travelled over the border from Wales to undertake his undergraduate degree and PhD at Bath University. After pursuing his PhD where he was exposed to the world of X-ray crystallography, he was awarded a Royal Society Fellowship (1995) to work at St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVIMR), Melbourne, Australia where he explored detoxifying enzymes and studied bacterial toxins like aerolysin and perfringolysin O (PFO); his work on PFO revealed the molecular mechanism of these toxins. In 2002, Prof Rossjohn moved to Monash University, establishing the Protein Crystallography Unit, which has grown to include over 100 researchers. He played a key role in designing and establishing a fully-automated crystallisation facility.

As a laboratory head and current NHMRC Investigator Fellow, Prof Rossjohn’s research is centred on understanding immunity. He has used structural biology to explain pre-T-cell receptor (TCR) self-association in T-cell development, and how the TCR specifically recognises polymorphic human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecules in the context of viral immunity and aberrant T-cell reactivity. He has unearthed structural mechanisms of HLA polymorphism impacting on drug and food hypersensitivities, as well as Natural Killer cell receptor recognition. He has pioneered the molecular understanding of lipid-based immunity by T cells, revealing that it can differ fundamentally from peptide-mediated adaptive immunity.

Recently, he has provided a structural basis of how vitamin B metabolites can be presented and recognised by the immune system, revealing a new class of antigen. Collectively, he has published > 500 papers and mentored numerous researchers towards obtaining higher degrees and nationally competitive fellowships.

His multidisciplinary approach, supported by a broad network of collaborators has led to a fundamental advancement of knowledge in this field and his research leadership has been recognised by numerous national and international awards. In 2022, Prof Rossjohn was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society and Associate Member of EMBO.

Professor Young received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford (Oriel College and Green College). Following postdoctoral training at Boston University and the University of Texas-Houston, he held faculty appointments at the University of Texas-Houston and Baylor College of Medicine, before joining the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2009 where he is currently a Professor of Medicine and the Jeanne V. Marks Endowed Chair of Cardiovascular Disease.

Research in Prof Young’s laboratory is focused on understanding how environmental factors, such as time-of-day and nutrition, influence cardiometabolic and cardiovascular health. Regarding time-of-day, the laboratory has been actively exploring how an intrinsic time-keeping mechanism, known as the circadian clock, influences cardiac function. His pioneering studies have resulted in a new field, which intersects chronobiology with cardiovascular research.

In addition to his research success, Prof Young has remained firmly committed to training future generations of both physicians and scientists. This has been achieved, in part, through directing both medical school courses, as well as postdoctoral training programmes. As a Visiting Professor of Cardiac Science at RDM, Prof Young will lend his unique expertise in cardiovascular disease and circadian biology to augment both ongoing and nascent research programmes, as well as facilitate the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

 

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postdoc

Congrats Adam on your Cell paper

Researchers create “Lipidomic Map,” offering insights into immunology

An international team of scientists has developed a method for simultaneously detecting thousands of lipid molecules that are displayed to T cells in the human immune system.

The study, co-led by Professor D. Branch Moody, MD, of the Division of Rheumatology, Immunity and Inflammation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Adam Shahine, PhD, at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute represents a collaboration among researchers from Oxford, United Kingdom, Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and Groningen, Netherlands. The results were published today in Cell.

The team developed a new and sensitive method to detect more than 2,000 lipids bound to CD1 antigen presenting molecules, which display antigens to the human immune system.

While scientists have long known that T cells recognise antigens, until the 1990s, it was thought that these antigens were always peptides derived from proteins. Because lipids are not encoded by genes and are instead made by enzymes and form into membranes, they have entirely different functions and positions in the cell.

The ability to measure many lipid antigens at one time will allow future researchers to cross-check any disease-related lipid of interest to the list of candidate lipid antigens from this map and potentially make connections to diseases.

Their efforts yielded the first integrated CD1 lipidomic map, which could help guide the investigation and discovery of lipid blockers and antigens for T cells and support the view that lipids normally influence immune responses.

The research builds on earlier methods that separate cellular lipids in one chromatographic system, which provided only a limited perspective. The new structural biology work, undertaken by Dr Shahine, ARC DECRA fellow, showed how lipids fit inside proteins using size-based mechanisms.

Combined, the structures and biochemistry detail rules about the size, shape, and chemical content of the kinds of lipids that can bind CD1 and cause a T cell response—either activation or deactivation. It is the latest in a series of studies that date back to the 1990s, when Brigham scientists discovered that T cells can recognise lipid antigens.

Splashdown“. The image provides a prism for thinking about how oily antigens are recognized in aqueous solution. Four lipid presenting molecules, CD1a, CD1b, CD1c and CD1d, including a three dimensional CD1-lipid complex, fall toward the surface of a blue and watery environment surrounding a T cell. Image credit: Dr Erica Tandori.

“In this ambitious decade-long, multidisciplinary study, we have characterized the full spectrum of cellular lipids that can be displayed to T cells. Further, we have collated 25 years of structural biology data, as well as new data collected at the ANSTO Australian Synchrotron, to standardize the rules that govern the molecular mechanisms in lipid presentation” said Dr Shahine. “Our hope is that the data generated in this study will serve as a foundation for future research in the field of lipid mediated immunity.”

Professor Moody said, “The Brigham provides an environment where physicians and scientists from differing fields can collaborate. This multidisciplinary effort involved biophysical techniques related to mass spectrometry and biological techniques related to lipid chemistry. The lipids informed immunological outputs, and the mode of lipid recognition is proven through X-ray crystallography.”

Read the full publication in Cell, titled CD1 lipidomes reveal lipid-binding motifs and size-based antigen-display mechanisms

DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2023.08.022.

Original article

Read about our disability internship program featured by WISE Employment

Rossjohn Laboratory pioneers inclusive paid internship program for GradWISE graduates

In a display of commitment to diversity and inclusion, Rossjohn Laboratory, a renowned Biomedical Science research lab in Australia, has taken significant strides to create a more inclusive workplace and support newly emerging graduates with disabilities. As a longstanding partner of GradWISE, the organisation has recently offered multiple disability-affirmative paid internship positions to graduates from various universities, marking a ground-breaking moment for the scientific community.

Four GradWISE science graduates secured the highly sought-after internship opportunities at Rossjohn Laboratory. Over the past 12 weeks, they have been welcomed into the research and administrative teams, immersing themselves in the inner technical workings of the cutting-edge laboratory.

GradWISE graduates interning at Rossjohn Laboratory

Leading this initiative is Professor Jamie Rossjohn, FAA FAHMS FLSW FMedSci FRS, an ardent advocate for workplace diversity. Professor Rossjohn’s unwavering commitment to creating broader internship opportunities for graduates with disabilities has set a shining example for the scientific community. He firmly believes that by fostering diversity in the workplace, not only does the team benefit from a wider range of perspectives and ideas, but it also leads to enriched experiences for all involved.

“Collaborating with the Rossjohn Lab has been an incredibly enriching experience for GradWISE participants. Their dedication to fostering inclusion and providing meaningful opportunities is truly commendable. Together, we’ve opened doors for talented individuals to contribute to groundbreaking projects” says Head of GradWISE Edward Osano.

During their internship, they have had the privilege of participating in the Monash Sensory Science Exhibition held in June. The exhibition, which brings together art and science for participants with diverse needs, provided an inspiring platform for the interns to showcase their skills and passion for scientific discovery.

The experience at Rossjohn Laboratory has proven to be transformative for the interns, giving them greater confidence in navigating the workplace and reinforcing their passion for scientific research. One intern, who had never been employed before, expressed immense excitement and eagerness to continue contributing to the lab as part of their ongoing career journey.

GradWISE student Sophia says “working for Rossjohn Laboratory has long been a goal of mine. I was so excited to secure the internship with assistance from GradWISE. Assisting the team to deliver the Monash Sensory Science Exhibition has helped improve my confidence and broaden my skills. I felt supported every step of the way. I’m so grateful to Professor Rossjohn and the team for this opportunity.”

Professor Rossjohn, while discussing the remarkable progress of the GradWISE interns, was filled with pride and admiration for their contributions. In recognition of their exceptional performance, he provided the GradWISE interns with an additional six-week contract extension, underscoring the laboratory’s commitment to nurturing talent and providing meaningful opportunities.

science objects at Rossjohn LaboratoryOver the last three months, Coach Roanna Harry has been there to provide support to the GradWISE participants.

“The Monash Sensory Science Exhibition was an impressive display of inclusive creativity and innovation. It was wonderful to see the Rossjohn interns in action as they assisted the team to run the event. It’s been so heart-warming to see our students thrive and witness their professional growth over the course of the internship. The nurturing and inclusive culture within the Rossjohn team has been crucial to their success. As they near the end of the internship, GradWISE look forward to continuing to support our participants to leverage this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as they embark on careers in the science field” says Roanna.

[Images:  1. Sean Christopher (L) and Sophia Ladanyi (R) assisting at the Monash Sensory Science exhibition on June 30th, 2023.  2. Tactile models of immunity created for the exhibition.]

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Read Erica’s piece in Hire up about our sensory science exhibitions this National Science Week

Explore sensory science exhibitions this National Science Week

At 23, I was diagnosed with a form of juvenile macular dystrophy. This can be devastating for any young person, but as an art student beginning a degree at the Victorian College of the Arts, majoring in painting, it was particularly devastating.

I had spent so many years as a child learning to paint; I thought this was something I would continue to do throughout my life. However, the diagnosis brought all this to a crashing halt. A mere few millimetres of dead cells at the macula can have huge impact – no longer driving, reading, seeing faces, no longer able to see the finer details. A sense of freedom and carefree independence gone.

As my diagnosing ophthalmologist could not answer my questions – how quickly will my blindness progress? To what extent will I lose my vision? Will I lose my sight completely?, I became an observer of my own deteriorating vision, noting its myriad impacts in every aspect of life.

In the following years, after raising two children, I decided to return to art school with limited vision. And I realised that low vision (or legal blindness) is not very well understood. So, I decided to paint and draw what my vision loss looked like, and completed my PhD at the Victorian College of the Arts as an artist researcher, relaying an ‘eye witness account’ of the entoptic effects of my own vision loss.

For me, vision loss did not look like the big black spot at the centre of a perfect visual field, so often depicted in major ad campaigns promoting eye health, or ophthalmic textbooks and journals, as they try to explain what the person with macular disease might ‘see’.

A painting of a yellow and red Vegemite jar on a grey surface. The middle and right side of the jar is dissolving away into red, yellow and white flecks.

‘The Vegemite Jar’ – 2016 oil-on-canvas painting, by Erica Tandori

In contrast, I find my vision loss to be a dynamic and ever-changing form of blindness, its visual effects dependent upon environmental, physical, and psychological conditions. I don’t see a black spot at all. It’s just so much more complex than that.

The discoveries I made as an artist made me realise that, sometimes, even the most sophisticated medical and scientific equipment cannot capture the lived experience of disease or disability, and that art can contribute to medical and scientific research.

In that respect, my work as artist in residence at the Rossjohn lab, Biomedicine Discovery Institute, at Monash University, has pushed both my work as an artist, and my work as a blind creative researcher. Here, with the support of Professor Jamie Rossjohn, I create exhibitions for people with blindness and low vision, who wish to know more about biomedicine and biomedical research.

All too often, people with blindness and low vision don’t have access to the incredible wonders that are to be discovered through electron-microscopy and crystallography. These are discoveries that have made great science and won more Nobel prizes than any other field – discoveries that are celebrated in our culture, and yet remain inaccessible to those with visual impairments.

People with disability remain on the perimeter of scientific discourse, while at the same time Australian schools and tertiary institutions are witnessing a decline in the number of people undertaking STEM subjects, including biomedicine. 

This decline in STEM and the lack of access to science for people with vision impairment has been the driving inspiration behind Prof Jamie Rossjohn’s initiative to bring science to the blind and low vision communities.

As a result, the Monash Sensory Science initiative was born, with the first exhibition held in 2018. Since then, exhibitions have travelled across Australia and overseas, recognised by the United Nations Symposium (AI for Good), celebrated by Berlin Falling Walls (Breakthroughs in Science) and travelled virtually across the world.

Added to this, we also began a disability internship program, enabling people with an interest in biomedicine to work at our world leading research laboratory, giving them an opportunity not often available to those of us with disability. To date, we have enabled some of our interns to gain secure employment and enrolment into science higher degrees, including Master’s and PhD.

We have explored ways to make science accessible through tactile artworks, interactive science books, tactile posters, large font and braille labels, data projection mapping on sculptures, science inspired pop songs, and art-making workshops recorded in ASMR (auto sensorial meridian response) each seeking ways to make biomedicine novel, unique, inspiring and highly accessible to all.

But there is much, much more to do. We need a cultural shift, encouraging people from all walks of life and all abilities to be inspired to enjoy science, study it, work in its areas of research and celebrate its discoveries. And we need the wider community to accept and support this shift and the benefits this will bring.

I do believe Monash Sensory Science is a wonderful initiative, for it draws together scientists and researchers, people from all walks of life, inclusive of diverse needs, science literacies and divergent backgrounds to celebrate the wonders of biomedicine. It is a story about all of us, for all of us.

Monash Sensory Science will celebrate National Science Week with two free exhibitions travelling to both Melbourne and Sydney in August 2023.

In Sydney, Monash Sensory Science will partner with NextSense, a premier agency supporting children with hearing and vision loss, to host an event at the Australian Hearing Hub, Macquarie University, on Tuesday 15 August from 12 – 4 pm.

Register here

In Melbourne, the exhibition will be hosted by Statewide Vision Resources, the Victorian Education Department’s peak body providing support to school age children with blindness and vision impairment and their teachers. This exhibition will be held on Thursday 17 August 2023, from 2 – 5 pm.

Register here

These exhibitions will also include workshops, where participants living with blindness, low vision or diverse needs, can create science inspired artworks. Items produced in the workshops will be included in future exhibitions and new interactive science books. All workshop materials will be provided free by the organisers. The exhibitions are free, light refreshments are also provided. Bookings are essential as places are limited.

A Monash Sensory Science pull-banner in front of an entrance to a Monash University building. Two women with dark black hair wearing puffer jackets are walking towards the doorway.

Erica is smiling. She has brown eyes, shoulder length brown hair and is wearing a black v-neck top.

Dr Erica Tandori PhD, is a legally-blind artist, academic and public speaker. Since being diagnosed with a form of macular dystrophy, a degenerative form of vision-loss, in her first year of art school, Erica has devoted her art making and research to an examination of what it means to experience living with vision loss.

Original article