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Conquering cancer begins within

3 April 2013

Ask Malaghan Institute PhD student (PhD now awarded) Taryn Osmond about how best to treat cancer and she will tell you to look within – within your immune system that is.

For decades, patients have been given bone marrow transplants to drive immune responses against cancers such as leukaemia. However, this can be a blunt tool that is often associated with toxicity to healthy tissues. What is needed is a better way of programming the immune system to target cancer cells more precisely, and this is where Taryn’s research comes in.

For the past three years Taryn has been working with Associate Professor Ian Hermans’ Vaccine Research Group on the development of a vaccine therapy for the treatment of cancer. As a result of Taryn’s research, we now have a clearer idea about which immune cells need to be targeted by the vaccine for optimal anti-tumour immune responses.

Taryn in Ottawa, Canada, attending a Keystone Symposium.

In December last year, Taryn presented her findings at the Rockefeller University in New York and at a Keystone Symposium in Ottawa, Canada entitled “Immunological Mechanisms of Vaccination”.

Being invited to speak at such a prestigious conference is testament to the quality of Taryn’s research.

Taryn says she is very grateful to the Wellington Division of the Cancer Society, The Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust, the Genesis Oncology Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (awarded by the Keystone Symposium panel) for helping make this trip possible.

“There were several hundred of my peers from around the world attending the conference, so it was very rewarding to be able to converse with so many other scientists in my research field,” she says. “My presentation went well and I had a lot of great questions afterwards.”

“I also gave a poster presentation that generated a lot of interest from scientists who were not in my specific field, as they wanted to understand my research better so they could relate it to their own individual areas of expertise.”

“Overall, it was a very successful conference and I received a lot of interesting information that will benefit the cancer vaccine research carried out at the Malaghan Institute.”

Taryn’s current focus is getting her research published. Particularly since she has now seen firsthand just how competitive and fast moving this area of cancer research is.

Looking to the future Taryn says she plans to continue her career in cancer immunotherapy, building on some of the connections she made while overseas.

The immune system has always fascinated Taryn and she feels passionately that with the right tools, it can be used to successfully treat cancer.