Viertel Fellowship boost to immunity and next-gen vaccine research

Dr Jennifer Juno, Lab Head in the Dept of Microbiology & Immunology based at the Doherty Institute, has been honoured as one of the leading Australian medical researchers to receive the distinguished Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellowship.

The award, presented by the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation in association with Bellberry Ltd, grants Dr Juno $1.375 million over five years, supporting her research to improve vaccine efficacy against infectious diseases.

A T cell immunologist, Dr Juno’s research focuses on expanding our fundamental knowledge in antiviral immunity and vaccination. In previous work, she uncovered the vital role played by T cells in enhancing the effectiveness of vaccines, particularly in generating robust and lasting immune responses.

However, despite these promising findings, there is still much to learn about the intricate mechanisms behind helper T cell immunobiology during vaccination. Her current work seeks to bridge this knowledge gap and provide a fundamental framework for the development of next-generation vaccines.

Dr Juno said that effective vaccines are key to reducing the health and economic impacts of infectious diseases.

The recent development of vaccines against COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has highlighted the importance of new vaccine design approaches to maximise protection against infection and severe disease.

“My research aims to improve our understanding of how the immune system responds to vaccines, and to harness this knowledge to develop more effective vaccines that can overcome waning immunity, boost vaccine-induced immune responses and tackle a larger range of pathogens.”

This work holds the potential to revolutionise vaccine design, resulting in vaccines that are more potent and able to provide long-lasting protection against infectious diseases, including for diseases that have historically resisted traditional vaccine development efforts, such as HIV and Tuberculosis.

"It is a true honour to be awarded the Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellowship. I want to thank the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation and Bellberry Ltd for their support of my research and for their commitment to mid-career researchers in the field of medical research,” said Dr Juno.

Professor Andrew Brooks, Head of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Doherty Institute congratulated Dr Juno on her achievement.

“Dr Juno's receipt of the 2023 Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellowship reflects her achievements in contributing to our understanding of how T cell responses can dictate the quality of antibody responses to both vaccines research and pathogens,” said Prof Brooks.

Dr Juno's work has the potential to drive innovation and rational improvements in vaccine design, ultimately contributing to a future where infectious diseases pose a diminished threat to humanity.

"We eagerly anticipate the outcomes of her research which will not only enhance our basic understanding of T cell biology but has direct relevance for global health," Prof Brooks said.

This article was originally published on 2 Nov 2023 by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection & Immunity (Doherty Institute).

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