From basic research to the clinic: reflections on a key immunology conference

Last week (April 24-28), immunologists from round the world converged on Whistler (BC, Canada) for a Keystone Meeting on B Cells and T Follicular Helper Cells – the cells in our immune system that are crucial for long-term protection against infection, and for the success of most vaccines.
06 May 2017

Researchers from Garvan’s Immunology Division played a key role in the meeting. Professr Stu Tangye, who heads the Division, was the lead organiser; Prof Chris Goodnow, Garvan’s Deputy Director, gave the keynote address; and a number of other Division researchers – namely Prof Rob Brink, Debbie Burnett, Dr Elissa Deenick, Dr Katherine Jackson, Dr Tri Phan, and – presented talks or posters that described their latest research findings.

“It was a great meeting,” Prof Tangye says. “It was very pleasing to have a great turn out of enthusiastic and passionate researchers, and a fantastic series of cutting edge presentations by experts on this topic from all over the world.

“For me, as Head of Garvan’s Immunology Division, it was incredibly satisfying to have so many Garvan immunologists take centre stage; it really reminded everyone there that Garvan immunology is leading the way in this area of basic and applied research. It really is testament to the great science that is being done by the Immunology labs and groups here at Garvan – and it was wonderful to have representation at all levels, from postgraduate students to members of the executive management team.

“There was also a strong presence of Australian researchers from other research institutes, continuing the long tradition of prominent Australians such as Gustav Nossal, Jacques Miller, and Jon Sprent who made major contributions to the fields of B cell and T cell biology from the 1960s onwards. 

“Chris Goodnow – who is recognised internationally for his work on understanding how immune cells are prevented from attacking ourselves – opened the meeting with the Keynote address. Chris’ presentation linked some of his findings from nearly 30 years ago to his research today, and included a fantastic example of how basic research can lead to immediate therapeutic interventions for individuals with life-threatening diseases of the immune system. This important story highlighted the power of current technologies in terms of gene sequencing, but also emphasised the importance of a multidisciplinary approach for furthering medical research and improving patient outcomes. It also illustrated that it is a long and often difficult trajectory from making discoveries in experimental models to seeing that information being applied in the clinic! 

“It is this research-to-clinic aspect of the meeting that I found most exciting. It was wonderful to hear stories of how research can transform clinical medicine – either by realizing that particular diseases can be treated with particular drugs, by improving diagnosis, by understanding how some immune cells suddenly “go rogue” and start causing disease, or by witnessing new advances in the development of vaccines against hard-to-control infections. 

“This is why we do research – the desire to impact humankind and to improve lives.”