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Associate Professor Laura Mackay

Associate Professor Laura Mackay

(03) 8344 8016 | [email protected]

Laboratory Head
Department of Microbiology and Immunology (DMI)
Lab Group(s):
Laura Mackay Group

Laura Mackay is a Laboratory Head and Senior Lecturer at The University of Melbourne and holds an Adjunct appointment at the Singapore Immunology Network at A*STAR. She is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and Bill & Melinda Gates International Scholar, an National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Career Development Fellow, recipient of The Michelson Prize for Human Immunology and The Victorian Young Tall Poppy Science Award and serves on the council of the Australian Society of Immunology as the representative for The Federation of Immunological Societies of Asia-Oceania (FIMSA). Laura obtained her PhD from The University of Birmingham, U.K., in 2009, before taking up a post-doctoral position with Prof Francis Carbone at The University of Melbourne. Laura established an independent group at the Peter Doherty Institute in 2016, where her laboratory studies memory T cell responses, with a focus on the signals that control resident memory T cell differentiation, with a view to harness these cells to develop new treatments against infection and cancer.

  • Key Achievements
    • For a number of years, Laura has been at the forefront of research into tissue-resident memory T cells and their involvement in skin immunity, which has resulted in publications in the leading journals Science, Nature, Nature Immunology, Immunity and PNAS. Laura’s research is supported by CIA project grants from the NHMRC and University of Melbourne, and she has secured competitive fellowships including an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) in 2014, an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship Level 1 (CDF) in 2016 and she was selected as Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) – Gates International Research Scholar in 2017. Laura is a recipient of the Victorian Young Tall Poppy Science Award and Victorian Infection and Immunity Network Young Investigator Award. She frequently presents at international meetings, serves as a reviewer for multiple journals and funding bodies, serves on the council of the Australian Society for Immunology as the representative for the Federation of Immunological Societies of Asia-Oceania (FIMSA) and is a regular co-host on Melbourne Triple R Radio science show Einstein-A-Go-Go.

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    • The role of resident memory T cells in barrier immunity and autoimmune disease

      Infections are commonly acquired through barrier tissues such as the skin, gut and lung, hence establishing memory CD8+ killer T cell populations at these sites is critical for effective immune protection. While most memory T cells circulate in the blood, a distinct lineage, termed tissue-resident memory T cells (Trm), resides and remains in peripheral tissues. Laura’s group’s work has shown that these cells form a defensive barrier providing immediate local control of viral infection. Using methods including flow cytometry, histology and intravital 2-photon microscopy, current work focuses on how Trm cells respond following secondary infection, and they are developing novel strategies to boost Trm cell responses, which aim to facilitate the development of strategies to exploit these cells in vaccination settings. Work in the laboratory also aims to understand the role of Trm cells in autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis, and Laura’s group is investigating new approaches to eliminate pathological cells from peripheral tissues.

    • Understanding the regulation of tissue-resident memory T cell development

      Laura’s group’s work has shown that tissue-resident memory T cells (Trm) are phenotypically and functionally distinct to memory T cells in the circulation. They have found that Trm development is a multistep process that requires the action of several molecules, and that these cells acquire a unique transcriptional profile during their differentiation. Using several different infectious models including Influenza, herpes simplex virus, Listeria and LCMV, Laura’s group is investigating the regulatory cues and mechanisms that govern Trm cell development in different tissues, with a focus on the transcriptional networks that regulate commitment to this immune cell lineage.

    • Identifying the mechanisms of immune cell development in peripheral tissues

      It is now clear that ‘tissue residency’ extends past the T cell lineage, and that various immune cell populations including innate lymphoid cells (ILC) and NKT cells, can persist long-term in peripheral tissues. Laura’s group is interested in the role of the tissue microenvironment in shaping these immune cell populations, and are studying the tissue-tropic factors and signals that govern the environmental adaptation of immune cells to different tissues. Their work also investigates common mechanisms that are required to establish tissue residency such as the shutdown of tissue egress, and they are deciphering novel factors required for these processes. Their goal is to provide a molecular framework for tissue-resident lymphocyte differentiation, which will provide a basis for targeting these cells in future immune cell-based therapies. 

    Research Groups
    • Laura Mackay Group

      Laura’s group aims to understand how the immune system responds to infection. Research is focused on uncovering the signals that guide lymphocyte development in peripheral tissues, with an aim to discover new therapies to boost protective immunity.

      Lab Team

      Laura Mackay Group

      • David Freestone
        Research Assistant
      • Brooke Davies
        Research Assistant
      • Susan Christo
        Research Officer
      • Simone Park
        Research Officer
      • Clara Castellucci
        PhD student
      • Julia Prier
        Research Officer
      • Natasha Zamudio
        Research Officer
      • Claire Gordon
        Research Officer
      • Maximilien Evrard
        Research Officer
      • Raissa Fonseca
        Research Officer

Full University of Melbourne profile