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Global networks tackling big problems of human health

2 August 2019

As New Zealand’s centre for immunology research, the Malaghan Institute plays a key role in a number of important networks both in New Zealand and abroad. Our upcoming CAR T-cell cancer therapy clinical trial illustrates the progress that can be achieved through collaboration. A partnership between the Malaghan Institute and the Chinese Hunan Zhaotai Medical Group, the trial combines cutting-edge CAR T-cell technology, developed in China, with our expertise and capability in cell-based immunotherapy and experience with clinical trials. The collaboration will not only give New Zealanders early access to this revolutionary new treatment, but may ultimately improve the effectiveness of CAR T-cell technology for patients worldwide.

It’s not just in the CAR T-cell space that international efforts are transforming our understanding of the immune system – all our research benefits from scientific collaboration that will shape the future of these exciting programmes.

At the National Institutes of Health in Washington DC, Dr Kerry Hilligan, a member of the Institute’s immune cell biology team, is involved in an international collaboration investigating the early stages of allergic disease and how the immune system is shaped by its environment. Working with leading international scientists Dr Alan Sher and Dr Dragana Jankovic, Dr Hilligan is answering the big-picture questions of how this trained immunity may apply to allergic disease, cancer, and vaccination strategies.

In a similar vein, a collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel has had great success in tracking the journey of a pathogen through the immune system, helping us understand how the immune system functions on a cellular level.

“By following the individual cells that take up the different pathogens, you can really see the make-up of the immune response,” says Professor Franca Ronchese, who led the Malaghan Institute’s contribution to the research programme. “Already by 24 hours you can see the differences between the response to an allergen compared to the response to a bacterial or fungal infection.”

Professor Graham Le Gros says there are many reasons that collaborations are so important to accelerating the pace of medical research, discovery and application.

“These international collaborations plug us directly into the global conversation in the ‘white hot’ centres around cutting-edge science and technology developments. These collaborations are with people at the very top of their field,” he says. “Professor Ido Amit at the Weizmann Institute is the world-leading single cell expert. Kerry is working with the world expert in tuberculosis research at the NIH. The value of having a presence at the table means we’re at the forefront of important medical research and developments, and this relationship works both ways. Even though we’re a small country on the other side of the world, we’ve more than proven our capability on the international stage in both the quality of our research and the calibre of our scientists. 

“Ultimately, these collaborations internationalise research. They allow a vital interchange of fundamental and applied research across the globe between labs where expertise is shared for the benefit of all. Through insights and findings other organisations need and don't have access to, and vice versa, we can link major fundamental discoveries to effective clinical developments through this network of global science.”

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