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07 Dec 2020

Dr Simone Park wins 2020 Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research

Doherty Institute Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Simone Park's research on understanding how tissue-resident memory T cells protect against cancer and infection has earned her the prestigious 2020 Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research.

In its 26th year, the awards were established to recognise the exceptional contributions made by early career health and medical researchers in their PhD studies.

Dr Park completed her PhD at the Doherty Institute through the University of Melbourne, under the supervision of laboratory heads Professor Thomas Gebhardt and Professor Laura Mackay.

“This is an amazing award to receive, I want to thank my supervisors, and my family and support network who helped me throughout my PhD,” Dr Park said.

“My project was a team effort, and I also want to thank everyone who contributed to this work, and all the other finalists.”

During her PhD, she developed a novel melanoma model that allowed the visualisation of real-time interactions between cancer cells and immune cells in mouse skin.

“I discovered that tissue-resident memory T cells are critical to control cancer. They do this by keeping constant watch over cancer cells and forcing them to stop growing without completely removing them – essentially forcing the cancer into a state of prolonged sleep,” Dr Park explained.

“I also found that tissue-resident memory T cells are extremely good at protecting against viral infections. I showed that these cells can persist in tissues long after an infection has been cleared to stop reinfection in the future.

“My work is important because it has revealed how tissue-resident memory T cells protect us from disease and provided incentive to explore targeting of these cells to develop better vaccines and cancer treatments.”

Professor Laura Mackay, Doherty Institute laboratory head and Dr Park’s supervisor said she was incredibly proud of her.

“She’s an absolute superstar. The future of health and medical research is in safe hands with young scientists of Simone’s calibre at the forefront,” Professor Mackay said.

Dr Park will be granted $5,000 for winning the Basic Science category, and an additional $15,000 as the overall Premier’s Excellence Award winner.