Dr Carolien van de Sandt granted coveted Victorian Young Tall Poppy Science Award

The Senior Research Fellow from the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the Doherty Institute, has received the Award for her work in virology, immunity and community engagement in science.

Image: Dr Carolien van de Sandt receives Young Tall Poppy Award at ceremony in October

Young Tall Poppy Awards, an initiative of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS), recognises up-and-coming scientists who combine world-class research with a passionate commitment to communicating and promoting science.

Speaking to her award win, Dr van de Sandt said she was honoured and grateful to receive such recognition of her research impact and public outreach activities.

“This is such a fabulous acknowledgement of the work I do both inside and outside the lab, and also an opportunity to expand on my science public engagement activities,” said Dr van de Sandt.

Tall Poppies showcase high standards of world leading research and work on projects that will benefit all Australians in the future.

Currently leading the aging-immunity program at the Doherty Institute, Dr van de Sandt is primarily interested in understanding why the body’s immune system loses its ability to respond to viruses with age. Her findings will be used to develop vaccines and treatment strategies, which provide the elderly with the same optimal immunity found in children, thereby protecting them from severe infections.

The immune system can be thought of as an army ready to fight viruses. Soldiers, called “killer-T-cells”, recognize and kill infected cells before they make more viruses - and as a result you feel less sick. By comparing killer-T-cells of children and elderly individuals I want to understand why they respond differently.

Last week Carolien's latest research on aging-immunity was published in the journal, Nature Immunology. The study found that 'killer-T-cells' in older adults, directed against influenza viruses, closely resemble those found in newborns and children, but struggle to recognise infected cells. Read more

Dr van de Sandt said she is now looking forward to the communications and community engagement activities she will be working on as a Young Tall Poppy awardee.

I firmly believe that engagement with the public about scientific processes and findings, and with my research in particular, is of great importance to raise awareness, trust and understanding.

Carolien's outreach activities are significant -  she contributed to the world’s first COVID-19 immune publication in Nature Medicine that had more than 700 national and international media mentions and reached 2.6 billion across 71 countries. She has coached 40 teams of high-school students in science and viruses in the Viruskenner competition in the Netherlands and also starred in the research documentary 'Cracking COVID' on the ABC.

I especially enjoy communicating my research to the younger generation, sparking their curiosity, hoping that it will inspire them to pursue a career in STEM.

Media coverage

Dr Carolien van de Sandt was interviewed by Triple RRR's Einstein A Go Go about the Young Tall Poppy Awards (10 Oct).

Listen now

This article was originally published by the Doherty Institute on 4 September 2023.

The Doherty Institute is a joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

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