Dr Stuart Tangye
15 December 2010
The Australian Academy of Science announced last week that Dr Stuart Tangye, an immunologist at Garvan, has won the 2011 Gottschalk Medal for research in the medical sciences, the most prestigious award in the field for early career researchers.
Over the past 15 years, Dr Tangye has forged an international reputation based on contributions he has made to our understanding of various types of immune cells – and how these cells malfunction in rare immunodeficiency disorders.
In particular, Dr Tangye has collaborated with clinicians from around the world to examine conditions caused by mutations of single genes - such as X-linked lymphoproliferative disease (XLP) and Hyper IgE Syndrome, or ‘Job’s Syndrome’.
People with Hyper IgE Syndrome suffer from devastating complications of skin, gut and lung infections caused by Candida albicans and Staphylococcus aureus. We all have these fungi and bacteria on our skin, but healthy immune systems largely keep them at bay.
Those with XLP (an inherited disorder found exclusively in males) experience an exaggerated but uncontrolled immune response to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a very common virus that infects the vast majority of the population. The proliferation of immune cells caused by XLP can cause extensive tissue damage, and sometimes cancers of the immune cells themselves.
By helping to reveal the exact molecular mechanisms involved in these and other diseases, Dr Tangye has thrown some light on the functioning of normal immune systems, as well as paving the way for treatments of rare immunodeficiency disorders.
“While these are very, very rare groups of patients, they’re very informative,” said Dr Tangye. Out of a total of roughly 30,000 genes, these people have a mutation in a single gene, and it causes their health to be severely compromised. This tells you from an evolutionary or a biological perspective that the gene is really important.”
“Studying these patients helps us understand how the immune system works in normal people – which is going to have a huge benefit – as well as how to treat their particular disease.”
“Once you have identified that a molecular pathway is important for protection against this type of pathogen, or that type of virus, you have something to target when you develop vaccines or improve infection outcomes.”
The Gottschalk Medal will be formally presented to Dr Tangye at the Academy on 5 May next year.