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14 Dec 2018

Insights from ASI: Catriona Nguyen-Robertson

The 47th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australasian Society for Immunology was held last week in Perth. Doherty Institute PhD student Catriona Nguyen-Robertson attended, securing the award for best poster presentation, as well as taking out the BD Science Communication Award for being able to present her research to a lay audience. Here she shares her insights on the event. 

In between visiting quokkas, snorkelling, and walking through Perth’s Christmas Lights Trail,  I attended the 47th annual scientific meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society for Immunology (ASI). There was the chance to meet up with friends and collaborators from other institutes, develop new friendships, and listen to numerous talks (many of which I summarised and tweeted about under #ASI2018WA – if you’re interested in the scientific research presented but couldn’t attend). I met incredible research scientists and leaders, including Associate Professor Kate Schroder from the University of Queensland, who spoke about a ‘non-canonical’ inflammasome pathway and made an excellence case for keeping data small in the hilarious Lafferty Debate (in which two teams debated the pros and cons of big data), as well as bright, up-and-coming students. The New Investigator session, in which six top students or recent graduates present their work, continued to astound me (having attended ASI twice now):

  • Georgia Atkin-Smith (La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science) is preventing spread and transmission of the influenza A virus by impeding dying infected monocytes from blebbing
  • Deborah Burnett and Imogen Moran (Garvan Institute) study B cell responses: how we can create high affinity B cells towards specific targets and how they form a protective network against future infection
  • Kyle Mincham (Telethon Kids Institute) found that the right microbial exposure for pregnant mothers protects their child from allergic asthma and airway inflammation after birth
  • Simone Park (Doherty Institute) described resident memory T cells that promote cancer-immune equilibrium and hopes to improve our ability to fight cancers using them
  • Amy Prosser (University of Western Australia) discussed the challenges we need to overcome to prevent transplantation rejection.

It was particularly interesting to see how different researchers tackle the same problems with different methods. For example, in order to fight the malaria parasite, plasmodium, Associate Professor Ian Cockburn from the Australian National University, is designing vaccines with more protective epitopes to stimulate broader immune responses, Dr Sonia Ghilas from the Doherty Institute, is using a vaccine composed of heat-killed parasites to improve the formation of resident memory T cells in the liver so that they can eliminate infection before the parasites spread to the blood, while Dr Rhea Longley from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research determined a panel of antibodies in the blood that can accurately predict exposure in order to provide appropriate treatments to patients.

I also gave a presentation of my own for the BD Science Communication Award, in which I described antigen-presenting cells (Santas) presenting ‘presents’ to CD1a-restricted T cells (CATs) to cause allergic responses to skincare products. Following my presentation, the people who visited my (somewhat more) scientific poster were disappointed that there were no cats or Santas!

Catriona Nguyen-Robertson presenting her research for the BD Science Communication Award
Catriona Nguyen-Robertson presenting her research for the BD Science Communication Award

With all the socialising, nerve-wracking presentations, and madly scribbling notes and tweeting during presentations, it was a fun conference! ASI hosts a wonderful assortment of immunologists from Australia and New Zealand, and it’s great that we can all catch up and hear about what’s going on in the field of immunology in our part of the world.