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07 Jun 2018

Dr Daniel Pellicci wins top award for research into immune system ‘first responders’

A Melbourne scientist who has dedicated his career to solving the mysteries of the immune system, has won the Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research for 2018.

University of Melbourne Dr Daniel Pellicci, a Senior Research Fellow at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), focuses on the ‘first responders’ of the immune system, particularly the roles of cells known as unconventional T cells.

These cells kick-start an immune response and can recruit other aspects of the immune system within minutes to mount a comprehensive fight against infection.

“With a better understanding of these T cells, we could potentially exploit them to treat human disease. In fact, some of them are already being trialled as immunotherapeutic targets to fight cancer and infections,” Dr Pellicci said.

“I’m tremendously excited to receive the Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award and to have my work as a cellular immunologist recognised in this way.”

University of Melbourne Professor Dale Godfrey, who heads a laboratory at the Doherty Institute, said Dr Pellicci is emerging as a key international player in this field of immunology research.

“Daniel’s enthusiasm and dedication to his work is exemplary. He has always taken great pride in his work and it’s been a great pleasure to see him moving his way up the ladder with many great achievements and high-impact papers along the way,” Professor Godfrey said.

“This honour is well-deserved and I look forward to ongoing collaborations with Daniel as he establishes his own laboratory in the near future.”

Dr Pellicci is very passionate about turning his focus to understanding how these T cells work in the context of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis (TB).

“It’s not acceptable that over a million people continue to die from TB every year. I would like to find a way to exploit unconventional T cells to potentially boost the current BCG vaccine, and reduce the number of people dying from this devastating disease,” he said.

The Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research recognises outstanding individual achievement by a mid-career Australian researcher. Dr Pellicci received the medal and $50,000 to help further his research at the Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR) Victorian Gala Dinner.