Dr Michelle Boyle named 2023 CSL Centenary Fellow

Burnet Institute

14 October, 2022

Dr Michelle Boyle has been awarded a AUD$1.25 million CSL Centenary Fellowship to further her work to making malaria vaccines better to save more children.

Dr Boyle has discovered how our immune response to malaria can be disrupted by the malaria parasite, reducing the effectiveness of vaccination in children in malaria-affected communities.

Now, with the help of the $1.25 million CSL Centenary Fellowship, she will work to bypass malaria’s suppression of our body’s defences to boost our immune response. Her research may also help improve vaccines for other chronic diseases.

Image: The 2023 CSL Centenary Fellowships were presented at the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences Annual Meeting 2022. Pictured (L to R): CSL CEO and Managing Director Paul Perreault, 2023 CSL Centenary Fellow Dr Samuel Forster, 2023 CSL Centenary Fellow Dr Michelle Boyle, and CSL Chief Scientific Officer Dr Andrew Nash. Photo by Ben Swinnerton, courtesy of AAHMS.

Currently based at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Dr Boyle is returning to Burnet Institute to set up a new group within the Disease Elimination Program.

Malaria infects over 240 million people each year, keeping many of them in poverty. Children are particularly susceptible.

“Despite decades of research, the single licenced malaria vaccine has only about 20 per cent efficacy in children in high malaria regions,” Dr Boyle said.

“A recent experimental vaccine was nearly 100 per cent effective in preventing malaria in previously unexposed people but failed to produce any protective response in children already exposed to malaria.”

Dr Boyle’s team studied T follicular helper cells (Tfh) which are found in the tonsils and spleen and help B cells produce antibodies against pathogens.

“We found that a particular group of these Tfh cells drive functional antibody development in human malaria infection. And we found that during malaria infection these cells are not activated optimally, especially in children.”

Dr Boyle plans to investigate how malaria disrupts the Tfh cells, and determine ways in which she can overcome this disruption and boost the immune response to malaria.

In order to reach the World Health Organization goal of a malaria vaccine with 75 per cent efficacy by 2030, large and rapid breakthroughs in human malaria vaccinology will be required.

Dr Boyle hopes that her research will make a significant contribution to this goal.

She also hopes that by better understanding how these Tfh-cells function and are affected by infection her work will inform development of more effective vaccines both against other chronic diseases, and in individuals who have weakened immune responses, such as the elderly or those who are immunocompromised.



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