International Fellow Symposium 2017: Immunogenomics on the agenda

Immune disorders, and the genomic changes that underpin them, were explored in detail at Garvan’s 2017 International Fellow Symposium – the highlight of the Institute’s annual scientific calendar.
20 December 2017

Researchers and clinicians from across Australia and beyond gathered at Garvan’s International Fellow Symposium 2017 on November 20th to share their latest insights into autoimmunity and primary immunodeficiency. Talks at the Symposium focused particularly on the burgeoning field of immunogenomics – which seeks to uncover new insights into immune disorders by investigating the genomic changes that underpin them.

The International Fellow Symposium was first held in 1998, and is the highlight of Garvan’s scientific calendar. It brings together leading researchers from across Australia and overseas with expertise in a rapidly changing area of medical research.

Every year, the Symposium culminates in the Leslie Lazarus Oration, given by the International Fellow, an outstanding senior researcher whose work has had sustained international impact. This year’s International Fellow and Les Lazarus Orator was Professor Jean-Laurent Casanova (from The Rockefeller University, NY, USA and the Necker Hospital for Sick Children, Paris, France).

A pediatrician and researcher, Prof Casanova has built a remarkable research career around understanding why some of us are susceptible to some infectious diseases, yet others are not. By studying many people (often children) with surprising susceptibilities, the Casanova lab has uncovered a huge range of genetic changes that mean an individual has a precisely defined 'hole' in their immune armour. In total, Prof Casanova and his team have been responsible for identifying ~20% of all known gene defects that cause diseases of the immune system. His work has changed our thinking about infectious diseases – and has shown that they are, in a sense, genetic also.

Professor Stuart Tangye, who heads Garvan’s Immunology Division, organised and chaired this year’s Symposium. Prof Tangye has worked closely with Prof Casanova for many years.

Prof Tangye says, “Jean-Laurent is a true pioneer in every sense of the word. His work has had profound influence across many fields, including genetics, infectious diseases, basic, clinical and translational human immunology and molecular medicine. For these reasons, Jean-Laurent is in high demand as a speaker – so we were delighted that he agreed to be the 2017 International Fellow.

“Jean-Laurent’s Oration was outstanding. It elegantly combined history, controversy, philosophy and of course cutting-edge science; there was something for everyone!”

Prof Tangye adds, “The Symposium was a great success, thanks to the high calibre of all the presenters, from overseas and across Australia. We had a wonderful turnout of approximately 200 delegates – which speaks to the quality of the work being discussed and also to the relevance and central importance of immunology to many common diseases of today, such as autoimmunity, allergy and cancer, and to vaccine development, infection, and inflammation.”

The Symposium’s speakers were:

  • Prof Jean-Laurent Casanova (The Rockefeller University, NY, USA; Necker Hospital for Sick Children, Paris, France)
  • Prof Isabelle Meyts  (Pediatric Immunology, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)
  • Dr Vanessa Bryant (Immunogenetics Research Team, Walter & Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne)
  • Prof Matthew Cook (Director of Immunology, The Canberra Hospital, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ACT)
  • Dr Therese Cole (Pediatric Immunology, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne)
  • Prof Stuart Tangye (Head, Immunology Division, Garvan)
  • Prof Chris Goodnow (Deputy Director, Garvan)
  • Imogen Moran (PhD student, Immunology Division, Garvan)


About the Les Lazarus Oration

The Leslie Lazarus Oration, which was initiated at the 2007 Garvan International Fellow Symposium, honours Professor Leslie Lazarus AO, Garvan’s first full-time Director. Prof Lazarus is a key figure in Garvan’s development; he was co-director during the first few years after Garvan opened in 1963, and became sole director in 1969, leading the institute for the next 20 years.

The list of Leslie Lazarus Orators to date is as follows:

2007: C Ronald Kahn – “Insulin action in the liver and metabolic syndrome”

2008: Sir Greg Winter –“The antibody revolution: science, invention and startups”

2009: Stephen O’Rahilly – “Genetics of human obesity”

2010: David A Sinclair – “Sirtuins: new insights into why we age and what we can do about it”

2011: Gerald I Shulman – “Obesity, insulin resistance and metabolism”

2012: John Stamatoyannopoulos – “Gene regulation and common disease”

2013: Bruce Spiegelman – “Brown and beige fat: basic biology and novel therapeutic opportunities

2015: Michael Karin – “The oil that feeds the flame: how obesity and metabolic stress beget liver cancer”

2016: Sten Linnarsson – “Cellular identity and dynamics in the mouse brain by large-scale single-cell RNA-seq”

2017: Jean-Laurent Casanova – “Monogenic inborn errors of immunity underlying severe infectious diseases of childhood”