Monash BDI’s Day of Immunology: Tours, talks and trivia

Activities wrap up with a round of trivia.

Did you know that Melbourne has an outstanding history of Immunology research, including two Nobel Prize winners, Professor Peter Doherty and Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet?

If you didn’t, you’re not alone. This was one of the facts that visiting Year 11 students learnt  during the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s (BDI) International Day of Immunology discovery tour last Thursday.

The tour offered 70 Year 11 students the chance to don white lab coats as they visited real biomedical research laboratories, and immerse themselves in the fascinating world of immunology for a few hours.

The labs of Professor Jamie Rossjohn, Associate Professor Stephanie Gras and Dr Natalie Borg gave the students a glimpse into the science of protein crystallography (used to discover the structure of molecules in our immune system) and gave them a turn at looking down the microscope to try to ‘fish’ out some of the tiny crystals.

The students also had an up-close experience with pathogen-killing dendritic cells in the labs of Associate Professors Meredith O’Keeffe and Mireille Lahoud. They counted the dendritic cells (average size 10-15 micrometres) in a sample, a process scientists use to understand and carry out research into how the immune system works.

They gained a sense of the processes involved when the immune system is pitted against pathogens and fights back – from surveillance to protection – and the importance of new vaccines and treatments in helping it do this. One of our senior immunology researchers, Professor Nicole La Gruta, brought home the importance of the fundamental discovery research underlying these in an opening address.

The students also inspected the latest generation of microscopes and robotics for antibody production and protein crystallisation, all of which are part of the Monash Technology Platforms. These technologies allow our researchers to study the immune system in an unprecedented level of detail.

The Day of Immunology event wrapped up with a trivia session, where the students broke into teams to answer questions which tested how much they learned during the tour. Questions included ‘what do plasma B cells produce?’, ‘where in the body would you be able to find cells of the immune system?’ and ‘what type of Personal Protective Equipment do you need in a PC2 lab?’

The top two teams took home giant, stuffed microbes while the two runner-up teams went away with fun science activities to do at home.

“We wanted the students to learn about immunology but also to have fun,” said Dr Christophe Macri, one of the researchers who helped plan activities for the day.

“We hope that this may encourage them to become future scientists!” he said.

“The day was really well received,” said Professor La Gruta.

“I had students come to my own lab and my postdoc, Dr Pirooz Zareie said they were really impressed by the fact that we could grow cells in vitro and were excited to be able to see the cells and participate in feeding and splitting cells.”

The event illustrates Monash BDI’s commitment to engage with the wider community to inform, influence and advocate, and our drive to showcase the ongoing work of some of our passionate early career researchers. It highlighted the importance of immunology research and that multidisciplinary teams, including chemists, biologists, and physicists, are key to advancing technology development and innovation.

“Exercises like these are essential to engage young people and the general public in our work, in making research accessible to the general public, and in imparting an understanding of the importance of discovery research in the ultimate results of tangible clinical cures and treatments,” Professor La Gruta said.

The students, who came from four local secondary schools, found the event to be informative and entertaining.

“It was interesting to learn the names of all different cells in the immune system and their role,” said one student.

“It was fascinating to learn that stem cells could be used to treat asthma,” said another.

“The cell images were really beautiful; I learned that different coloured proteins allow us to see different parts of the cells.”

The participating schools were Waverley Christian College, Brentwood Secondary College and John Monash Science School. Thank you to all of the researchers who were involved in making the Monash BDI’s Day of Immunology discovery tour event a great success.

Below is a list of immunology research labs that opened their doors, and the researchers in their teams who organised the hands-on activities.

Lab Name

Lab Head

Organisers

Immune Recognition Laboratory

Prof Jamie Rossjohn

A/Prof Stephanie Gras

Dr Gabrielle Watson

Dr Emma Grant

Stem Cells and Translational Immunology

Dr Tracy Heng

Ms Senora Mendonca

Immunology and Diabetes Laboratory

Dr Eliana Marino

Ms Yu Anne Yap

B cells and Antibody Memory Laboratory

Dr Kim Jacobson

Ms Lucy Cooper

T Cell Immunity and T Cell Transcriptional and

Epigenetic Regulation Laboratories

Prof Nicole La Gruta

Prof Steve Turner

Dr Pirooz Zareie

Dendritic Cell in Health and Disease and Dendritic

Cell Receptors Laboratories

A/Prof Meredith O'Keeffe

A/Prof Mireille Lahoud

Dr Christophe Macri

Stromal Immunology Laboratory

Dr Anne Fletcher

Dr Kostas Knoblich

Dr Joshua D'Rozario

Infection and Immunity Laboratory

Dr Natalie Borg

Dr Sarah Atkinson

Professor Nicole La Gruta explains the basics of immunology to Year 11 students.