24 Apr 2020

Day (& Year!) of Immunology events, public lectures and more

Professor Nicola Harris is one of the speakers
at the 2020 Day of Immunology public lecture
on 15 May. RSVP here 
2020 is being a big year for immunological research. A worldwide scientific hunt is on for tests, prophylactics, treatments and vaccines for the deadly coronavirus, COVID-19. So the annual celebration of immunological research, the Day of Immunology, has never been more timely.

Monash University's Department of Immunology and Pathology is a major contributor to the event. Professor Nicola Harris, a research group leader in the department, will be one of the three speakers for the 15 May public lecture. RSVP here

Prof Harris will be speaking on worms! Not earthworms, but parasite worms such as tapeworms and hookworms, known collectively as helminths, which are transmitted by soil. When they get into us, they live in our gastrointestinal tract. We have a long evolutionary history of co-existence with these parasites, and our immune system has developed a variety of responses to these soil transmitted helminths (STH), and their interactions with our immune system and the intestinal microbiome.

STH infection takes a terrible toll on people, companion animals and livestock, hence our efforts to eradicate them. Which raises another question: What happens to our immune system when the usual helminth challenge to the immune system is removed? 

The long co-evolution of STH together with mammals means that their sudden eradication from modern human populations living in the developed world has led to alterations in our immunological and metabolic 'set points'. It is believed that this is closely related to the ability of these organisms to impact on our intestinal microbiota, with the microbiota of people carrying normal helminth burdens representing a more “natural” or “ancient” microbiota than that found in modern, westernized populations (like us). Importantly, the complete absence of STH is closely associated with the increased burden of so-called modern diseases including allergy, autoimmunity and metabolic dysfunction.

So we are looking for new ways of both eradicating these organisms in at risk populations, and replacing their beneficial properties with safe alternatives.

Prof Harris is NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and laboratory head at the Central Clinical School, Monash University.

You can hear her interview and RSVP to the forthcoming lecture.
See more Day of Immunology activities: https://www.immunology.org.au/news-and-events/day-of-immunology/

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