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Researchers Decipher a New Way that Immune Cells Detect Infections and Cancers
Melbourne, Australia 

Melbourne researchers have determined the molecular basis for how an important component of the immune system, called gamma-delta T cells, detects infections and cancers.

Published today in Science, the research team from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and CSL Limited say this breakthrough of discovering how gamma-delta T cells become activated addresses a question that has baffled scientists for 25 years.

The study by University of Melbourne’s Marc Rigau, PhD student at the Doherty Institute, was co-led by Dr Adam Uldrich, a Senior Research Fellow at the Doherty Institute, Professor Dale Godfrey a laboratory head at the Doherty Institute, and Dr Andreas Behren, a Laboratory Head from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute.

Dr Uldrich explained that gamma-delta T cells are known to respond to the presence of small molecules, known as phosphoantigens, that are produced by bacteria and cancer cells.

“This leads to the activation of these gamma-delta T cells and often eradication of the diseased cells.”

Professor Godfrey said “Up until now, scientists have struggled to understand the fundamental question of how phosphoantigens are detected by gamma-delta T cells.”

“We found that molecules on the surface of the gamma-delta T cells, called T cell receptors, bind to another molecule called butyrophilin 2A1 that is present on many different cell types throughout the body, including cancer cells.”

Dr Behren said “These findings represent a key advance in our understanding of how gamma-delta T cells function to protect us from disease.”

“The research team believes that this breakthrough could ultimately lead to the development of new and improved immunotherapy treatments for millions of people worldwide impacted by cancer and infection.”

The research is the result of a collaboration between the Doherty Institute, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, and CSL Limited.

“This research project demonstrates the power of collaboration between academia and industry. Nearly a decade ago, we identified Butyrophilin 2A1 as a potential therapeutic target but its precise biological function remained elusive,” said Dr Con Panousis, Senior Director Molecular Biology, CSL Limited and an author on the paper.

“This discovery makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how gamma-delta T cells work and in doing so, paves the way for translating this research into new immunotherapies for the treatment of serious human disease.”

The collaborators have filed patents surrounding their discovery.

Note to editors: All researchers are available for interview, as well as Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre patient James Doulis. Please note, the discovery detailed in this release is NOT available as a treatment. Mr Doulis can speak to the importance of research from a patient perspective

About the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Finding solutions to prevent, treat and cure infectious diseases and understanding the complexities of the immune system requires innovative approaches and concentrated effort. This is why The University of Melbourne – a world leader in education, teaching and research excellence – and The Royal Melbourne Hospital – an internationally renowned institution providing outstanding care, treatment and medical research – have partnered to create the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute); a centre of excellence where leading scientists and clinicians collaborate to improve human health globally.    /DohertyInstitute     @TheDohertyInst    #DohertyInstitute

About the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute

The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) is a leader in the development of experimental and breakthrough cancer treatments. We investigate and develop treatments for cancers of the breast, bowel, lung, skin, prostate, liver, gastrointestinal tract and brain. ONJCRI, as the La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine is Australia’s newest cancer research institute. The Institute is integrated within the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre, with research laboratories only metres away from where patients are cared for and receive treatment. This inspires and enables the rapid translation of scientific discovery into clinical trial of new, better, cancer treatments.    /ONJCRI     @ONJCRI      #ONJCRI

About CSL Limited
CSL (ASX:CSL) is a leading global biotechnology company with a dynamic portfolio of life-saving medicines, including those that treat haemophilia and immune deficiencies, as well as vaccines to prevent influenza. Since our start in 1916, we have been driven by our promise to save lives using the latest technologies. Today, CSL — including our two businesses, CSL Behring and Seqirus -  provides life-saving products to more than 60 countries and employs more than 25,000 people. Our unique combination of commercial strength, R&D focus and operational excellence enables us to identify, develop and deliver innovations so our patients can live life to the fullest.   @CSL


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Media Enquiries:

Catherine Somerville
Senior Media and Communications Officer
Doherty Institute
P+61 (0) 3 8344 8378
M+61 (0) 422 043 498

Media Enquiries:

Jaime Greenup
Communications and Engagement Manager
Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute
P+61 (0) 3 9496 9389
M+61 (0) 405 341 792

Media Enquiries - CSL Limited

In Australia:
Christina Hickie
Senior Manager, Communications
P+61 (0) 3 9389 3425
M+61 (0) 429 609 762
Rest of World:
Greg Healy
P+1 610-878-4841
M+1 610-906-4564
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