International research to improve vaccination and transplant success
A newly awarded Early Career Fellowship could help to prevent malaria, improve flu vaccination and prevent organ rejection in transplant patients whilst building links between Cambridge and Australia. Starting this month, Dr Danika Hill from the Lymphocyte Signalling & Development Laboratory at the Babraham Institute will be working with world-leading colleagues on both sides of the world to understand more about how our bodies respond to infections. The Fellowship is funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Dr Hill will use the fellowship, which runs for four years, to examine how the body responds to illnesses and immunisations by producing specialised antibody proteins that target the causes of illness. Dr Hill, who is also a Research Fellow at Hughes Hall, a College of the University of Cambridge, will spend two years in the UK working with Dr Michelle Linterman to understand antibody production in humans. She will then relocate to Australia to complete her Fellowship with Professor David Tarlinton in the Department of Immunology & Pathology, Monash University.
Antibodies are made by the immune system in response to vaccinations and infections. Antibody production is a complex process that requires different types of cells to work together in a coordinated manner. This process is a key part of how vaccines protect us from infections. As we age, the immune system becomes less efficient and so vaccines become less effective, but it is not clear how and why this happens. Our limited understanding of the immune system is part of the reason that scientists have struggled to produce successful malaria vaccinations. Organ transplants also create a challenge for the immune system, which will try to attack anything from outside the body, this is why transplanted organs can be rejected.
In the first part of her Fellowship Dr Hill will use cutting-edge approaches to examine the effects of vaccines on the human immune system. Vaccines contain chemicals, called adjuvants, that help the body to produce better antibodies, but it’s not clear how these work. By studying these more closely she hopes to understand how to improve the success of vaccines for malaria. This work will also help to reveal why vaccinations are often less successful in the elderly and could lead to better winter flu vaccinations.
During the second stage, she will study samples from lung transplant patients at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne – a leading centre for lung transplants. This will provide the opportunity to understand the related role of antibody production in organ rejection. These combined insights will provide a valuable model of the connections between poor (failed vaccination) and excessive (organ rejection) responses in the immune system and could ultimately contribute to the development of treatments to better control antibody production, improving vaccination success, health in old age and transplant survival.
Speaking about her Fellowship, Dr Hill said: “The process of antibody production is phenomenally complex and we still have so much to learn. Studying the immune system is my passion and I’m thrilled that I’ll be working with outstanding researchers around the world. Although there’s been a lot of research done in animals, we still don’t really understand these processes in humans and that’s really important for new vaccines and disease treatments. By the end of the four years we will have a clearer picture of how to regulate antibody production and hopefully this will help to make progress in improving vaccination and transplantation.”
Director of the Babraham Institute, Professor Michael Wakelam, said: “Congratulations to Danika on starting this exciting new research. The Institute provides researchers with access to resources and tools that can’t be found anywhere else and I’m pleased that Danika is making such good use of this and helping to build new global collaboration networks. This kind of international co-operation is vital to continuing progress in research. I look forward to seeing the results of this promising research which has great potential to improve the lives of millions worldwide.”
Notes to Editors:
Dr Jonathan Lawson, Babraham Institute Communications Manager
About the Babraham Institute:
The Babraham Institute receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to undertake world-class life sciences research. Its goal is to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Research focuses on signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing.