When immune cells turn bad

Credit: ThinkStock

White blood cells, which in a healthy immune system, defend us against diseases and foreign materials. Credit: ThinkStock

World leading immunologists will discuss what happens when the body's defences turn against us in Melbourne this month as part of International Day of Immunology.

Normally, the immune system protects the body from foreign material like germs; however, sometime this process is flawed and our own cells are targeted causing problems from allergies to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and Coeliac disease.

Entitled "When immune cells go bad", a public lecture in late April will feature Professor Robyn O'Hehir from Monash University and The Alfred with Dr Jason Tye-Din from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), Associate Professor David Ritchie from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Professor Trevor Kilpatrick from the University of Melbourne.

Professor O'Hehir will discuss her work as a leading researcher on allergies and respiratory response with a particular interest in asthma, grass pollen, peanut and seafood allergies.

"Allergies are so common that they are as much a public health issue as a medical issue," Professor O'Hehir said. 

"Our immunology research identifying safe and effective vaccines to treat allergies is a model of lab to patient to community translation.”

Other panel members will speak on Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance, multiple sclerosis and blood and lymphatic cancers.

The panel discussion, chaired by Monash University's Associate Professor Rosemary Ffrench, is the centrepiece of a series of public programs in Victoria aimed at highlighting the importance of the field of immunology. Discovery tours of research institutes such as WEHI, CSIRO, The Burnet Institute and Peter MacCullum Cancer Centre, where members of the public will get to explore the laboratories and meet the scientists.

Monash University's Gabriela Khoury helped organise the Victorian events, which are part of a world wide program.

"Immunology research has been vital to the successes of modern medicine, for example producing vaccines against viruses like smallpox which is now eradicated," Ms Khoury said.

“Fundamental immunology research on how the immune system identifies germs but doesn’t attack the body conducted in Australia has resulted in two Nobel Prize – MacFarlane Burnet and Peter Doherty.

"Cutting edge research on the immune system continues to be carried out in Melbourne, with research centres making a number of important advances especially in the fields of allergy and autoimmunity."

The free public lecture, "When immune cells go bad" will be held Monday 29 April, 5.30 - 8pm at the Melbourne Brain Centre, The University of Melbourne.

Full details of Discovery Tours and registration (essential for all events) at www.dayofimmunology.org.au