Monash BDI researcher recognised with Academy Award

Professor Nick Huntington.
Professor Nick Huntington.

A Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researcher, Professor Nick Huntington, has received the prestigious Jacques Miller Medal in recognition of his work on natural killer (NK) biology and checkpoint discoveries.

NK cells are essential to our immune system’s ability to locate and destroy other dangerous cells in our bodies before they cells develop into tumours or before infection spreads. NK cells participate in pathogen defence by producing pro-inflammatory cytokines and toxic granules that can directly kill infected or cancerous cells, as well as recruiting additional immune cells to the site of disease.

Professor Huntington’s team has made pivotal discoveries in IL-15 biology and how this cytokine regulates NK cell homeostasis. This has allowed them to generate novel tools to deregulate NK cell homeostasis that will improve understanding of their role in disease.

Using cutting-edge screens whereby each gene of the genome is deleted individually in white blood cells, Professor Huntington established that the gene Cish impaired white blood cells from responding to the growth factor IL-15. By deleting Cish in NK cells, his team made a breakthrough discovery that Cish acted as a “checkpoint” or switch that shutdown the ability of NK cells to become activated and kill cancer cells. As such, ablation of this gene in pre-clinical models prevented melanoma, breast, prostate and lung cancer metastases from developing and reduced the onset and growth of solid tumours including sarcomas, breast and colon cancer.

“This award is recognition of my lab’s hard work and dedication over the past five years to understand how natural killer cells activity is regulated and how we can rationally design therapies to enhance natural killer cell function to better treat cancer," Professor Huntington said.

Professor John Carroll, Director of the Monash BDI, congratulated Professor Huntington on his distinguished award.

“Nick’s work on NK cell biology addresses one of society’s biggest challenges, and this award recognises his impressive body of work in human immunology,” Professor Carroll said.

Outstanding contributions to science have been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science yesterday with 20 of Australia’s leading scientists and future superstars receiving prestigious 2019 honorific awards.

The Jacques Miller Medal recognises research of the highest standing in the field of experimental biomedicine. Professor Huntington is the third research from the Monash BDI who has received this Medal since it was established in 2015. Previous Monash BDI recipients include Professor Michael Cowley and Professor Jian Li.

Find out more about Professor Huntington’s research by watching this video.

The majority of the honorific awards will be presented at the Academy’s annual celebration of science, Science at the Shine Dome on 30 May 2019. Read the full list of the Australian Academy of Science’s honorific awards here.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.