Two NHMRC Senior Research Fellowships for Burnet

Burnet Institute

11 September, 2014

Dr O'Keeffe hosting a Discovery Tour at Burnet Institute.

By Lydia Hales

Congratulations to Burnet’s Dr Meredith O’Keeffe who has been awarded a Senior Research Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council for her research into the immune system of bone marrow, and to Professor James Beeson for his Fellowship renewal for malaria immunity and vaccine research.

The prestigious NHMRC five-year Fellowships support researchers with incredibly strong career track records, many with a proven ability to translate research into commercial, health practice or policy outcomes.

To be successful, the Fellows had to be in the top 10 per cent of their fields and submit highly innovative research proposals with the potential to have a transformative impact on a disease, condition or the health system.

Dr O’Keeffe, who is Head of the Dendritic Cell Research Laboratory and a Burnet Institute Principal for Immunity, Vaccines and Immunisation, received a five-year Fellowship worth AUD $611,645.

Having worked extensively on the role that dendritic cells play in the immune system, she is now focusing on bone marrow and how that may lead to targeted therapies.

During many infections bone marrow is known to harbour infectious pathogens including the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and typhoid; viruses such as dengue, HIV and cytomegalovirus (CMV); and parasites such as malaria and leishmania.

Dr O’Keeffe said there is currently little understanding of the immune responses against these agents in the bone marrow.

“My research aims for the next five years are to build on the novel data generated within my lab that unravels details of unique dendritic cells within the bone marrow, and, with particular emphasis on my clinical collaborations, to analyse human dendritic cell subsets in healthy and diseased patients,” Dr O’Keeffe said.

Dendritic cells are a crucial part of the immune system, patrolling the body seeking out invaders such as bacteria or toxins. The dendritic cells capture the invading bodies, convert them into smaller fragments, then travel to areas such as the lymph nodes or spleen to display them, stimulating other immune cells to take action.

Dr O’Keeffe listed her research objectives as:

  1. To characterise and analyse the function of dendritic cell subsets in mouse and human bone marrow, during health and disease.

  2. To investigate the roles of dendritic cells in mouse models of Myelodysplasia and in human myelodysplastic patients.

  3. To further investigate the role of dendritic cells in malaria infection.

“I anticipate that our studies will shed light on immune responses within bone marrow and may lead to targeted therapies to increase immune responses in the bone marrow environment,” Dr O’Keeffe said.

Professor Beeson, who is Head of Burnet’s Centre for Biomedical Research, received a five-year renewal of his Fellowship worth AUD$750,000 to further his work towards an effective malaria vaccine and immunity.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor James Beeson

MBBS, BMedSc, PhD, FAFPHM, FAAHMS | Deputy Director (People); Head of Malaria Immunity and Vaccines Laboratory; Adjunct Professor Monash University




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