Immunologist recognised for contribution to cancer research

Posted 24 May 2017.


An internationally recognised immunologist has received our Cancer Researcher of the year award. The award is for WA based cancer researchers who have made the most outstanding contribution to cancer research over the last year.

Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti is an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia and Head of the Immunology Division and Research at the Lions Eye Institute. Professor Degli-Esposti’s ground breaking work has shed light on the viral complications that can occur following bone marrow transplantation, which is generally considered the best treatment for blood cancer patients.

Professor Degli-Esposti said the effectiveness of bone marrow transplantation is presently limited by post-transplant infections and other complications such as graft versus host disease (GVHD).

“The focus of my work has been on trying to understand how the immune system fights infections and cancers but also trying to understand how viruses and cancers can bypass immune responses.

“Ultimately we want patients who are undergoing a bone marrow transplant not to be afflicted by the complications of viral infections,” she said.

Professor Degli-Esposti has developed the first pre-clinical models to test the use of immunotherapy to control ‘cytomegalovirus’ infection which can be a common and life threatening complication following a bone marrow transplant.

“We have defined some of the failures in the mechanism of the immune system, but there is still more work we need to do in this area and we have established important collaborations with research teams who are world leaders in bone marrow transplantation and GVHD,” she said.

Professor Degli-Esposti said receiving the award was a real honour because it was an acknowledgement of her work by her peers.

“It’s even more exciting because of the role Cancer Council played in supporting my earlier work in this area.”

Professor Degli-Esposti said an earlier grant from us allowed her to complete preliminary studies in this area for a paper published in the journal ‘Blood’ in 2015. She said this support was critical in her successful application for a significant National Health and Medical Research Council grant to continue work in this field.

“Medical research is not an easy field to work in…it needs passion, but the rewards are immense and the prospects of improving medical treatments make the commitment in time and energy totally worthwhile.”

Read more about the research projects we've been able to fund this year thanks to the generous donations of the WA community on our Successful Research Funding page.

Found in:  News - 2017  | View all news