Faulty memory can be bad for your health

Melanoma

Dr Elena Shklovskaya has just been awarded a three year grant by the Cancer Council NSW.

How is the memory of our immune system controlled?  And how does it actually remember what has previously infected the body?

An immune system with a bad memory can overlook chronic infections, allowing the development of cancers and autoimmune diseases, and trigger the rejection of transplants.

Dr Elena Shklovskaya, a senior research officer of the T cell biology research group headed by Prof Barbara Fazekas de St Groth of Sydney’s Centenary Institute, is interested in taking a closer look at these questions.  And to help her with this work, the Cancer Council NSW has awarded Dr Shklovskaya a grant of $120,000 a year for the next three years.

Immune memories are formed by selecting and preserving rare immune cells that are best suited to fight the infection. Some of these rare cells are known as CD4 T cells.  CD4 T cells control other immune cells by communicating with them, so it is critical to get their memory right, says Dr Shklovskaya.

So, among other techniques, Dr Shklovskaya proposes to use a special microscope imaging system to study how memory cells of the immune system interact in living mice in real time.  Once she understands more about how the immune memory system works, she will look for ways of modifying any faults and making the system operate more effectively.

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Melanoma

Dr Kim Beaumont sporting her lab coat.

The Centenary Institute is also hosting a second Cancer Council grant of the same size for the same time awarded to A/Prof Nikolas Haass and Prof Wolfgang Weninger. It will allow Dr Kim Beaumont, a research officer in the Experimental Melanoma Therapy group headed by A/Prof Haass and Immune Imaging Laboratory headed by Prof Weninger, to investigate the impact of several experimental drug therapies on the tumour cells of the deadly skin cancer, melanoma.

A similar microscope system to Dr Shklovskaya’s project will also be used in the melanoma project.  This time it will be set up to observe how particular drugs or combinations of drugs affect the cell division cycle of melanoma cells. This will be undertaken in living mice, and using a special laboratory system where the cells can be grown as a three dimensional tumour.

“The drugs we are testing might have a different effect on cells in different tumour micro-environments—in the middle, for instance, or near the edge of the tumour,” says Dr Beaumont.

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