Professor Laura Mackay becomes youngest fellow elected to the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences

Laura’s election to the Academy recognises her outstanding achievements and exceptional, ongoing contributions in the field of medical health sciences.

At the start of her career Laura Mackay of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, did not imagine she would become a professor and lead her own laboratory, let alone be the youngest fellow elected to the prestigious Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences. Yet here she is, having achieved both these honours, as well as a slew of others.

Laura has been recognised and congratulated on her election by the Herald Sun who aptly described her as “a rising superstar of science”.

Professor Mackay is leading ground-breaking work on tissue-resident memory T cells and their involvement in viral and tumour immunity.

Prior to her discoveries, it was erroneously thought that immune memory was controlled by blood-borne elements. Professor Mackay demonstrated this is not the case. She defined a novel population of T-lymphocytes or “T-cells” resident at body surfaces, showing that these tissue-embedded components were distinct from T-cells circulating in the blood. Critically, she showed that tissue-resident T-cells provide a dominant first-line defence against infection and cancer, revealing novel genes and pathways that can be exploited to control these cells for therapeutic gain.

Her discoveries resulted in dramatic paradigm-shifts in the fields of immunity and vaccinology, changing the way we think about how the body responds to infection by shifting the focus from the blood towards those tissues.

Throughout her career, Laura has been named as a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation scholar, received a $4 million Pfizer research grant, been awarded the prestigious Gottschalk Medal by the Australian Academy of Science, and became the first female president of Immunological Societies of Asia-Oceania.

Now leading a team of 20, Professor Mackay hopes her achievements, in particular her introduction into the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences which is the voice of health and medical science in Australia, will inspire other young women to pursue a career in science.

“Being elected at such a prestigious Academy is an amazing recognition. When I started my career, I never thought that I would be a professor let alone receive such a prestigious honour. It's something I didn't aspire to because I didn't think it was possible. Now that I am a professor, I guess, I am proof that it is possible to be a young female in a leadership position in science.”

“Myself, and many other young researchers, are breaking barriers and I hope it encourages younger generations to pursue a career in science – it’s a career path that truly allows you to be curious, creative and make an impact.”

Professor Mackay also acknowledges the importance that her role models and mentors have had throughout her career.

“Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute, Professor Katherine Kedzierska, Head of the Human T cell Laboratory at the Doherty Institute, and Professor Fabienne Mackay, former Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Melbourne, have been and continue to be amazing mentors.”

“They inspire me, and I feel privileged to receive such amazing support from these very successful women in science.”

We congratulate Professor Mackay on her election and look forward to continuing to see and share the incredible impact she creates.

You can read the article in the Herald Sun here, and the article by the Doherty Institute here.