Understanding how HIV evades the immune system

Monash University and Cardiff University (UK) researchers have come a step further in understanding how the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) evades the immune system.

Published today in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, the Monash-Cardiff team have made an important finding in understanding how HIV-I can evade the immune system.

They demonstrated, in molecular detail, how mutations within HIV can lead to differing ways in which key immune molecules, termed the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), display fragments of the virus and how this results in the HIV remaining “hidden” from the immune system.

Principal author of the study, Dr Julian Vivian, said the team was yet to develop a complete understanding of how HIV outmanoeuvred our immune system.

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Unearthing immune responses to common drugs

Australian researchers are a step closer to understanding immune sensitivities to well-known, and commonly prescribed, medications.

Many drugs are successfully used to treat diseases, but can also have harmful side effects. While it has been known that some drugs can unpredictably impact on the functioning of the immune system, our understanding of this process has been unclear.

The team investigated what drugs might activate a specialised type of immune cell, the MAIT cell (Mucosal associated invariant T cell). They found that some drugs prevented the MAIT cells from detecting infections (their main role in our immune system), while other drugs activated the immune system, which may be undesirable.

The results, published today in Nature Immunology, may lead to a much better understanding of, and an explanation for, immune reactions by some people to certain kinds of drugs. The findings may also offer a way to control the actions of MAIT cells in certain illnesses for more positive patient outcomes.

The multidisciplinary team of researchers are part of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging, and stem from Monash University, The University of Melbourne and The University of Queensland. Access to national research infrastructure, including the Australian synchrotron, was instrumental to the success of this Australian research team.

Dr Andrew Keller from Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute said that T cells are an integral part of the body’s immune system.

“They protect the body by ‘checking’ other cells for signs of infection and activating the immune system when they detect an invader,” he said.

“This arrangement is dependent on both the T cells knowing what they’re looking for, and the other cells in the body giving them useful information.”

PhD student Weijun Xu from The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience used computer modelling to predict chemical structures, drugs and drug-like molecules that might impact on MAIT cell function. Such small compounds included salicylates, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like diclofenac, and drug metabolites.

University of Melbourne Dr Sidonia Eckle from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said the implications point to possible links between known drug hypersensitivities and MAIT cells.

“A greater understanding of the interaction between MAIT cells and other host cells will hopefully allow us to better predict and avoid therapeutics that influence and cause harm,” she said.

“It also offers the tantalising prospect of future therapies that manipulate MAIT cell behaviour, for example, by enhancing or suppressing immune responses to achieve beneficial clinical outcome.”

Image credit : Vanette Tran

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2016 Victoria Prize for Science & Innovation

The Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation recognises the outstanding work of established Victorian scientists and the impact of their research.
Prof Jamie Rossjohn, of Monash University, and Prof James McCluskey, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at University of Melbourne, last night received the Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation for 15 years of pioneering work in understanding of how T lymphocytes from the immune system recognise harmful microbes.
Their research aims to build better vaccines, diagnosis and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, peptic ulcers and tuberculosis.

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PM opens Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute and visits Rossjohn Lab

Australia’s capacity to deliver innovative solutions to critical global health problems has been enhanced with the development of Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) which was officially opened today by Prime Minister the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP.

Monash University’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Margaret Gardner AO, welcomed Prime Minister Turnbull to the launch of the Monash BDI, which brings together a collaborative research effort of great scale that will see more than 120 world-renowned research teams, 700 on site researchers,  clinical partners and industry working together. The Monash BDI will be located at Monash’s Clayton campus where it will form a key part of the innovation precinct delivering crucial economic and social benefits to Victoria and the nation.

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Jamie awarded the ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship

Professor Jamie Rossjohn has been awarded a highly prestigious Australian Laureate Fellowship from theAustralian Research Council, worth $2.9 million over five years.

NHMRC Australia Fellow, Professor Jamie Rossjohn, from the Biomedicine Discovery Institute, was announced as a recipient of the 2016 Australian Laureate Fellowship at a ceremony in Canberra on Friday.

This fellowship will help Professor Rossjohn to continue his research into how key immune recognition events enable immunity.

Professor Rossjohn said his project would be supported by the cross-disciplinary approaches within the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging, key platform technologies at Monash and the Australian Synchrotron.

“This recognition is always a consequence of a team effort – students and researchers of the laboratory, collaborators, and Monash University,” Professor Rossjohn said.

“I would like to acknowledge the support of the ARC team within the Monash Research Office – they were superb in ensuring my application was in the best possible shape,” he said.

Most recognised for his contributions to understanding the function and dysfunction of the immune system, Professor Rossjohn has provided profound insight into T-cell biology. He has used structural biology to explain T-cell development and pioneered our understanding of lipid-based immunity by T-cells, recently showing how vitamin B metabolites represent an entirely new and important target for the immune system.

The Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, on Friday announced the Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowships at the ceremony in Canberra.

“We must continue to encourage not only the brightest Australian minds to explore opportunities here, but also to attract the best from overseas to share their knowledge in Australia,” Senator Birmingham said.

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