Understanding the immune system

27 November 2013, Immune system

MEDIA RELEASE

Reproduced with permission from Victoria University of Wellington Communications & Marketing.

International experts gather next week to advance understanding of the immune system and its importance in regulating all aspects of human health.

More than 350 leaders in biomedical and clinical research from around the world will attend the Australasian Society for Immunology’s (ASI) 43rd Annual Meeting in Wellington, which has been strongly supported by Victoria University of Wellington and the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.

The conference convenor Dr Anne La Flamme, an Associate Professor in Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences and the leader of multiple sclerosis (MS) research at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research based at Victoria, says, “Immunology is about much more than prevention of infectious disease though vaccination. We now appreciate that the immune system is involved in regulating many aspects of mental and physical health.”

Professor Graham Le Gros, Director of the Malaghan Institute, says immunology is a field in which there is still much to uncover.

“Your immune system does so much more than simply fighting infection. It scrutinises all cells in the body for signs of imperfection, and eliminates those not working properly. Our immune system also detoxifies and harmonises our body with the environment, the bugs that grow on us, and the toxins in the food that we eat. And it does so with minimal interruption to our daily lives.”

However, Professor Le Gros says it is becoming clear that the human immune system needs to be educated from the early months of life to know what it should, or shouldn’t, be attacking.

“Our team of scientists at the Institute are working on applying this knowledge to the development of natural therapies that educate the immune system to stimulate the right type of immune responses for the treatment of cancer, asthma, allergy and other inflammatory diseases,” he says.

Dr La Flamme will deliver an address at the conference, discussing her research into the drugs used to treat MS patients and their side effects. The work aims to improve efficacy of medication while reducing side effects and find ways of determining the drugs individual patients will best respond to.

The international keynote speakers at the conference include Dr Richard Locksley, Sandler Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California; Dr Alan Sher, Chief of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases and National Institute of Health Distinguished Investigator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States; Dr Rick Maizels, a Professor at the University of Edinburgh's Institute of Immunology and Infection Research; and Dr Lawrence Steinman, a Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences and Pediatrics at Stanford University.

As part of the conference, a public lecture, the Burnet Oration, will be delivered by Professor John Fraser, a graduate of Victoria University and now Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland.

Members of the public are invited to this lecture at the Michael Fowler Centre on Monday 2 December from 5.30–6.30pm, in which Professor Fraser will reflect on 40 years of immunology ‘down under’. Those interested in attending should RVSP to dscarlett@malaghan.org.nz with ‘RSVP – Burnet’ in the subject line.

Many ASI conference delegates will also attend the 2013 Australasian Flow Cytometry Group conference from 28 November to 1 December. The conference will explore the far-reaching applications of flow cytometry—a technology platform used to make measurements of particles—for science and medicine.

For more information contact Dr Anne La Flamme on 04-463 6093 or anne.laflamme@vuw.ac.nz.

Issued by Victoria University of Wellington Communications & Marketing. Tania Guenter, Communications Adviser, can be contacted by emailing tania.guenter@vuw.ac.nz or phoning (04) 463 5269.