Garvan immunology students win main prizes at ASI conference

For the second year in a row, a PhD student from Garvan has won the very prestigious New Investigator Award at the annual Australasian Society for Immunology (ASI) conference, held last week in Canberra. The 2008 winner is Alexis Vogelzang.
Garvan immunology students win main prizes at ASI conference

Garvan PhD student Alexis Vogelzang

20 December 2008

For the second year in a row, a PhD student from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has won the very prestigious New Investigator Award at the annual Australasian Society for Immunology (ASI) conference.

The 2008 winner, Alexis Vogelzang, was one of six students, selected from many contenders, who were invited to present their findings to the conference.

"The talks were all so interesting and well delivered," said Alexis. "So I was very happily surprised to win the award."

Alexis presented findings that build upon work she and PhD supervisor Cecile King published earlier this year in Immunity. The lab is investigating signalling molecule IL-21, which allows T and B cells to talk to each other during an immune response.

"In particular, we're trying to find out which of the two kinds of cells need the molecule more," she explained. "Whether it's the B cells which produce the antibody that can neutralise an invader or a disease, or the T cells that provide help in a specific response."

The award, which comes with a $1,000 prize, will help Alexis attend the European Congress of Immunology next November, in Berlin.

In addition to the ASI's main conference, there is a satellite workshop called the Mucosal Immunity Meeting. Another Garvan PhD student, Heidi Schilter, went through a similar process to Alexis, delivering an oral presentation of her work and winning the workshop's main prize of $250.

Heidi's research looks at how fats in our diet regulate our immune responses, especially in relation to asthma.

So how can the fats we eat possibly be related to a respiratory response?

"There has been an increased prevalence of obesity over the past decades and that trend follows the same trend as asthma, with some studies showing that increased obesity increases susceptibility to asthma." said Heidi. 

"We think it's not so much the fact that people are obese that makes them susceptible, but probably the types of fats they eat, which trigger both obesity and asthma."

"I work with a molecule that binds to long chain fatty acids, transporting them to different parts of the cell, which in turn affects their action. Some help protect a mouse from asthma, others make it more susceptible."

Stacey Walters, another Garvan researcher, presented the most highly ranked poster at the meeting.