Early career researchers awarded 2023 DMI Collaborative Grants

Congratulations to the six teams from the Dept of Microbiology & Immunology who have secured seed-funding in the 2023 round of the DMI Collaborative Awards.

Six teams led by early and mid-career researchers (EMCRs) from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology (DMI) at the Doherty Institute have secured seed-funding for their projects through the 2023 DMI Collaborative Grants.

The DMI Collaborative Grant program aims to kick-start new ideas and increase collaboration and cross-fertilisation of technology and ideas within the Department. The scheme presents the opportunity for early and mid-career DMI researchers to develop their own unique and exciting ideas, while leveraging the breadth of expertise in the Department.

Prof Andrew Brooks, Head of Department, congratulated all the applicants noting applications received were of a very high standard.

This opportunity has sparked new ideas and opportunities to collaborate across the Department. It was great to see the number of proposals that were creating new experimental models and analytical approaches that may have widespread value and applicability...

Prof Christopher McDevitt, Head of Research at DMI, said that the successful applicants showed remarkable ambition with their research plans.

"These awards encourage bold and ambitious thinking. Their outcomes can lead to crucial new data, models, and technical approaches that can support future grant applications, as well as having wider benefits for the entire Department."

Please join us now in congratulating the successful teams. We look forward to hearing from them all in 2024 about their award outcomes and how they have progressed their collaborative research projects.

Dr Lynette Beatie (Heath Lab) and Dr Annabell Bachem (Bedoui Lab)

“Interleukin-4 drives a unique activation phenotype in primary dendritic cells important for malaria control”

Plasmodium parasite species cause an estimated 250 million cases of malaria each year and an effective vaccine is lacking. Dendritic cells are the activators of the immune system, responsible for the generation of protective responses. This project aims to discover new biology on how dendritic cells respond to Plasmodium infection and establish a pathway to regulate abnormal cellular responses.

The award will support complex experiments utilising RNA sequencing techniques and analysis expertise - and help understand how dendritic cells respond to interleukin 4, providing potential targets to modify or target in malaria vaccine systems.

Dr Brendon Chua (Kedzierska Lab) and Dr Stephen Muhi (Howden Lab)

“Understanding immunity in a murine Buruli ulcer disease model for controlled human challenge trials”

Bringing together combined interests to understand bacterial pathogen and host factors underlying susceptibility to infectious diseases this collaboration will look at the neglected tropical disease Buruli ulcer - an infection of subcutaneous tissue caused by bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans, for which there is no effective vaccine. The lack of relevant in vivo disease models is a significant impediment to the development of prophylactic interventions and other therapeutics. This project aims to establish a specimen disease model and define immunological responses to bacterial infection as a stepping-stone to developing a controlled first-in-human infection model that will enable the testing of novel anti-bacterial interventions.

The funding  will enable us to procure reagents and animals for experiments to dissect and profile microbiological and immunological mechanisms during Buruli ulcer disease. The extensive suite of parameters examined here has never been performed at this depth before. Outcomes will undoubtedly reveal novel mechanisms and hallmarks of disease driving Buruli ulcer.

Dr Louise Rowntree (Kedzierska Lab) and Dr Julio Carrera Montoya (Mackenzie Lab)

“Understanding virology and immunology underlying severe and fatal Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) disease”

This new multi-disciplinary collaboration, bringing together immunology and virology aims to aid vaccine and diagnostic design to protect from severe/fatal Murray Valley encephalitis virus (MVEV), a mosquito-borne flavivirus endemic to Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea that can cause encephalitis in humans. There is an urgent need to understand the immunological and viral features of MVE disease.

Through combining immunological and virological analyses of MVE disease at the greatest level of resolution this project will define the role of killer T cells in severe MVE and develop a toolkit to understand MVEV virology and immunology - vital for enabling rational design of diagnostic assays and vaccine candidates.

Dr Philippa Saunders (Brooks Lab) and Dr Nichollas Scott (Scott Lab)

“It takes two to tango  – Understanding synergistic and competitive signalling in NK cells”

Natural Killer (NK) cells are an important component of the innate immune system, playing roles in both cancer and infection. This application seeks to deepen our understanding of the coactivting and inhibitory signalling pathways of NK cells using a cutting-edge phosphoproteomic approach. This  work may shed light on how best to target NK cells to improve their anti-tumour activities.

This award will allow our labs to purchase critical reagents to establish new phosphoproteomics workflows with goal to establish an automated system for phosphoproteomics sample preparation which will improve our ability to study NK signalling while also growing phosphoproteomic capacity within the Department.

Dr Callum Walsh (Stinear Lab), Dr Hamish McWilliam (Villadangos Lab) and Dr Tobias Poch (Mackay Lab)

“An improved capacity for interrogating microbiome-immune system interactions”

Our bodies are home to a diverse microbiome that interacts with our immune system in complex ways that are not fully understood. This project will improve the understanding of the communication between our microbiome and our immune cells by establishing a cutting-edge platform of a new low-cost, high throughput technique in combination with specimens with a more diverse microbiome.

Bringing together complementary expertise the collaboration will allow us, and researchers in the Department, to investigate the relationship between the microbiome and the host using a more translatable, lower cost, approach.

Dr Glen Carter (Howden Lab) and Dr Vanessa Marcelino (Marcelino Lab)

“Defining how commensal gut bacteria can kill multidrug resistant pathogens”

This article was originally published by the Doherty Institute on  31 July 2023.

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The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection & Immunity is a joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital.