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23 Aug 2023

Prestigious Eureka Prize awarded to Doherty Institute team for pioneering COVID-19 immunity research

In recognition of their outstanding contributions to COVID-19 research, a group of researchers from the University of Melbourne's Department of Microbiology and Immunity at the Doherty Institute has been awarded the highly acclaimed 2023 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research. This accolade stands as a testament to the team's groundbreaking work in understanding how the human immune system combats COVID-19 and responds to vaccination. 

The award-winning team, consisting of University of Melbourne Professor Katherine Kedzierska, Head of the Human T cell Laboratory and an internationally recognised research leader in human immunity, internationally recognised emerging research leaders in human immunology Dr Oanh Nguyen, Senior Research Fellow, and Dr Louise Rowntree, Postdoctoral Researcher, has provided a comprehensive map of immunological responses in COVID-19 

Based on more than a decade of expertise on immunity towards newly emerged viruses, established cutting-edge experimental setup and patient cohorts with approved ethics protocols, Professor Kedzierska, Dr Nguyen and Dr Rowntree were at the forefront of COVID-19 research right from the start. They promptly established innovative and multi-disciplinary immune research programs to unravel the intricate immune responses to SARS-CoV-2, and they were the first in the world to report on immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection in one of Australia’s first COVID-19 patients in March 2020 (Nature Medicine). 

Their pioneering studies, published in high-profile scientific journals, have paved the way for tailored approaches to vaccination, steering research efforts in the right direction and offering insights into protective antibody and T cell responses, across a spectrum of demographic groups, including children, the elderly, pregnant women and cancer patients. 

Their contributions have significantly advanced the medical community's understanding of COVID-19, thereby expediting worldwide research into infection and vaccination strategies. 

Professor Kedzierska shared the team's gratitude for the recognition in her acceptance speech. 

“It is such an honour and privilege to be awarded the 2023 Eureka Prize for infectious Disease Research. We would like to thank all of our laboratory members, past and present, for contributing to all the discoveries over the last years which immensely advanced our human immunology studies, so we could be at the forefront of COVID-19 research, in a very supportive environment at the Doherty Institute and The University of Melbourne,” said Professor Kedzierska. 

“We would like to acknowledge all of our national and international collaborators, and really thank the COVID patients who donated blood to our research. 

“We would like to thank the Australian Museum for sponsoring the Eureka Prizes and to congratulate all the 2023 Finalists. 

“Last but not least, we would like to thank enormously our families and friends who supported us behind the scenes and were there for us so we could focus on understanding immunity to the newly emerged SARS-CoV2, providing knowledge that was urgently needed.” 

The Eureka Prizes, presented annually in partnership with prominent scientific institutions, government organizations, universities and corporations, stand as Australia's most comprehensive national science awards. They celebrate excellence in research, innovation, leadership and science engagement. The Doherty Institute's triumph underscores their dedication to pushing the boundaries of knowledge and fostering collaboration across disciplines 

For a complete list of the 2023 Eureka Prize winners, please visit the Australian Museum's official page.