Immunology in the very blood of Castle Harlan award winner
01 November 2008
Helen McGuire has received the $10,000 USD Castle Harlan award for being the most outstanding early career PhD student at the Garvan Institute in 2008. The award can be used for anything that might assist career development, such as travel to overseas conferences or laboratories.
Castle Harlan is a distinguished and philanthropic US-based private equity firm that wishes to support the kind of medical research being undertaken at Garvan. The award was presented by Mr Leonard Harlan (Chairman, Executive Committee of Castle Harlan) and Mr Howard Morgan (Vice President). Mr Harlan and Mr Morgan are on the Board of the US-based charitable organisation, Friends of the Garvan, and great believers in the value of a top-notch scientific education.
In Dr Cecile King's lab, Helen has been undertaking detailed research into the role of messenger protein IL-21 in Type 1 diabetes.
"In 2004, Cecile found that levels of IL-21 are very high in NOD, or non-obese diabetic mice," said Helen. "She then showed that if you take the small section of genome where IL-21 sits and put it in an NOD mouse, it wouldn't develop the disease.
"I've taken these initial observations and mapped the course of the disease to see how the protein and RNA transcript levels increase through time."
"My work is all about what happens when the immune response goes wrong and someone develops an autoimmune disease, in this case Type 1 diabetes."
Interestingly, Helen became an immunologist because she owes her very existence to the discipline.
"My parents met at around the time they discovered you could give a rhesus negative mother antibodies on the birth of a baby so that she wouldn't mount an immune response against it."
"So - I'm child number 5 out of 7. We're all positive, while my mother's negative. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for immunology - or if mum and dad had met 10 years earlier."