Congratulations to Adam

Winner of the Early Career Researcher Publication Prize for 2020

Robert Porter Early Career Researcher Publication Prize for Laboratory Based Sciences

Dr Adam Shahine, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Biomedicine Discovery Institute, School of Biomedical Sciences

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.

A T-cell receptor escape channel allows broad T-cell response to CD1b and membrane phospholipids Nature Communications

Adam says: It is an absolute honour to be the recipient of the Robert Porter for Laboratory Based Sciences for this publication. I would like to acknowledge all co-authors and collaborators who took part in this exciting study. In particular, I’d like to thank my key supervisor and mentor Professor Jamie Rossjohn. This study married together flow cytometry, mass spectrometry, surface plasmon resonance, and x-ray crystallography, to describe the breadth of membrane phospholipids presented by the antigen presenting molecule CD1b, and the mechanisms of presentation to autoreactive T cells first isolated and characterised here. The importance of phospholipid antigen presentation has only been recently realised, which in the context of CD1b, have been found to mediate autoimmune diseases including T cell lymphoma and skin inflammation. One of the key findings from this study include the crystal structure of CD1b presenting a membrane phospholipid to a T cell receptor, which for the first time, may pave the way to understanding how these diseases occur. From this study, I was privileged to present this research at the CD1-MR1 EMBO Workshop conference in Oxford, UK in 2019, as well as Lorne Infection & Immunity and Lorne Proteins conferences in 2020.

Discovery of a rare human gene mutation that causes MAIT cells to disappear

A collaboration between Monash Health, the Australian Genomics Health Alliance (AGHA) and researchers at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute has led to the discovery of a rare single gene mutation in a patient that eliminates an immune cell population, namely MAIT cells.

This study’s journey began with a patient of Dr Samar Ojaimi from Monash Health who presented with a mild primary immunodeficiency with no known cause. He was identified as a candidate for the Genetic Immunology Flagship of AGHA led by Professor Matthew Cook from the Centre for Personalised Immunology at the Australian National University, which focuses on identifying genetic causes for immunological diseases.

The genome sequencing by the AGHA team identified a rare mutation in the gene encoding a protein called MR1, which normally helps initiate an inflammatory response from an immune cell population called mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells.  However, upon further investigation by a research team from Monash BDI, led by Dr Lauren Howson, they uncovered there had been a complete loss of this immune cell population, while the rest of the immune system remained intact.

“We studied the patient’s MR1 protein structure and found that the mutation prevented MR1 from being able to bind the vitamin metabolite it normally presents in order to activate MAIT cells. This led us to look at the patient’s immune system to see what effect the mutation had on the MAIT cell population and we were surprised to find it completely gone,” Dr Howson said.

A man gazes at the complex protein structures of his own immune system, and the rare genetic mutations that caused his illness, leading scientists to a dramatic discovery. Image © Dr Erica Tandori

Published in Science Immunology, the study demonstrates the power of interdisciplinary collaboration to uncover the impact of a single gene mutation and aid in diagnosis of rare immune disorders.

It not only advances the MR1 and MAIT cell biology research fields, but also demonstrates the substantial impact that discovery-based research can have when combined with clinical and genetic research, creating an avenue for advanced personalised medicine for rare genetic and immune disorders.

“This occurrence of a single immune cell population loss in a person gives us invaluable insight into the important role that this cell type plays in human immune responses,” Dr Howson said.

Professor Cook said: “Human genomics is a powerful method for advancing our understanding of the complexity of immunity.

“Genome sequencing has emerged as a crucial tool for both diagnosis and discovery of immune-mediated disease.”

Image: A man gazes at the complex protein structures of his own immune system, and the rare genetic mutations that caused his illness, leading scientists to a dramatic discovery. Artwork by Dr Erica Tandori.

Read the paper titled: “Absence of mucosal-associated invariant T cells in a person with a homozygous point mutation in MR1” Science Immunology.

Original article

Congratulations to Rachel: Faculty Three minute thesis (3MT) 2020 finalist

An 80,000 word PhD thesis would take 9 hours to present. Their time limit… 3 minutes

Watch our PhD student, Rachel Farquhar’s 3 minute PhD thesis video:

Competitors were not judged on video/ recording quality or editing capabilities. Judging focused on the presentation, ability to communicate research to a non-specialist audience, and 3MT PowerPoint slide.


The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is an academic research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland, and celebrates the exciting research conducted by PhD students in Australia and around the world.

Call for immunology to return to the wild

A multidisciplinary research team from more than 10 universities and research institutes has outlined how integrating a more diverse set of species and environments could enhance the biomedical research cycle.

The viruses that cause COVID-19, AIDS, Ebola, and rabies – among others – all made the lethal jump from wildlife into humans.

In an article published in Science, the researchers argue that understanding how the immune system works in animals that live with coronaviruses in a natural environment, such as bats, can give us direction for developing treatments and vaccines to protect humans from viruses.

Lead author Dr Andrew Flies from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, says this is not a new concept.

“The very first vaccine arose from observing people interacting with animals in a real-world environment. Specifically, milkmaids who acquired a mild cowpox infection from cows were protected from the deadly smallpox. That observation led to the idea of inoculating people with non-lethal viruses to protect them from deadly viruses. This type of discovery can only be made by studying new species in variable environments.”

Modern research relies heavily on mouse experiments in laboratory settings, which limits the scope for this type of ground-breaking discovery.

An example of a long-term payoff from stepping out of the lab is the discovery of a new class of antibodies, often referred to as nanobodies, in camels. Easier and faster to make than traditional antibodies used in biomedicine, camel-derived nanobodies are playing an important role in biomedical research, including the global COVID-19 response.

“We are really excited to see how our initial group discussions held at the first Australian Wild and Comparative Immunology (WACI) workshop led to publishing a Perspective article in a world leading journal,” said co-author Dr Jérôme Le Nours, from the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University, who was co-organiser of the WACI meeting.

Associate Professor Anne Peters, Monash University, co-author and consortium collaborator, added: “There are many excellent wildlife and disease ecologists, veterinarian scientists and immunologists in Australia, and beyond. We hope that our contribution will inspire them to seek mutually beneficial, inter-disciplinary collaboration”.

WACI Consortium collaborator and co-author Associate Professor Julie Old from Western Sydney University said it’s important for immunology research to include more diverse species.

“If we want to evolve our understanding of the immune system, and potentially get ahead of any future pandemics, the research community needs to expand. We need to broaden our scope, and bring new species and new environments into the research paradigm.”

Associate Professor Michelle Power from Macquarie University said: ‘‘Realising wild immunology needs initiatives like the WACI Consortium that harness the wide expertise of scientists and diverse technologies within individual. The risks of emerging infectious diseases are not going away. We need new ideas, new tools and dynamic collaboration to address them”.

The Director of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, Distinguished Professor Alison Venn, said new technology has broken down research barriers to integrating new species and environments into the research cycle.

“Proactive investment in wild immunology can stimulate discoveries with real-world applications for human and veterinary medicine and conservation. It could help us prepare for the next pandemic.”

Read the Rewilding immunology article published in Science.

Learn more about how integrating a more diverse set of species and environments could enhance the biomedical research cycle by watching the video below.

Original article

Our new research collaboration with Janssen to tackle coeliac disease

Monash University has signed a multi-year research collaboration with Janssen Biotech, Inc., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, to advance the understanding of the immune mechanisms underpinning Coeliac Disease and inform the development of new methods of diagnosis and treatment. The research will be led by Professor Jamie Rossjohn from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute. The collaboration was facilitated by Monash Innovation, part of the Enterprise portfolio at Monash University, and by Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC.

Coeliac Disease is a serious health condition affecting approximately 1 percent of the world’s population. It occurs when dietary gluten (a food protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats) triggers a damaging immune response that attacks the body. Coeliac disease is associated with a range of health problems and often causes digestive symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. It can also cause anaemia, low iron levels and excessive tiredness and is associated with osteoporosis, other autoimmune disease, infection and some types of cancer.

Providing a definitive diagnosis to Coeliac Disease currently entails invasive biopsy and improved diagnostics and better treatments are urgently needed. Presently, the only approved treatment is a gluten-free diet; there is no known cure. With the disease affecting on average approximately 1 in 70 Australians with around 80 percent of this number undiagnosed, the vast majority of Australians who have coeliac disease are unaware they have it.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise), Professor Ken Sloan, said the research agreement with Janssen is another example of Monash actively engaging with industry to explore new avenues: “Monash University remains committed to moving research forward for the betterment of human health, creating new avenues and opportunities that may lead to tangible benefits for the broader community”, Professor Sloan said.

Director of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Professor John Carroll, said the collaboration brings together leading researchers and industry partners to tackle this major health issue that affects so many individuals around the world.

“This collaboration is another example of how Monash BDI’s strong clinical relationships and industry engagement aim to accelerate the development of diagnostic and preventative treatments,” Professor Carroll said.

Professor Rossjohn stated: “The team at Monash, including Dr. Hugh ReidProf Nicole La Gruta and Prof. Tony Purcell, look forward to working alongside Janssen colleagues to develop innovative immunotherapeutics to prevent and treat Coeliac Disease.”

Original article