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Associate Professor Laura Mackay

Associate Professor Mackay is recognised for identifying a novel population of immune cells that provide critical immune protection against infection and cancer. It was universally accepted that immune memory was exclusively controlled by elements found in blood. However, Associate Professor Mackay found that T-cells, a type of white blood cell, can also sit in tissues of the body, such as the gut and skin, and are instrumental for pathogen control.

Read professional achievements and citations [174KB PDF] [246KB DOCX]
 

Transcript

[Music plays and an image appears of the Australian Government Coat of Arms and the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year badge and text appears: Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, Associate Professor Laura Mackay, The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Celebrating 20 years]

[Image changes to show Associate Professor Laura Mackay walking on a pathway past the Howard Florey Laboratory and then the image changes to show Laura working at a laboratory bench]

Associate Professor Laura Mackay: I’m an Immunologist. I study how immune responses can protect the body against disease.

[Image changes to show Laura’s face as she talks to the camera]

Growing up I absolutely did not want to be a scientist. I wanted to be an artist.

[Images flash through of pedestrians and traffic at a busy road crossing, a view looking up at a building, and Laura walking towards the camera along a street]

I didn’t think it would be so full of discovery and so unexpected.

[Image changes to show a rear view of Laura walking along the street and then the image changes to show Laura riding up a building in a lift]

I actually started to become interested in how the immune system could protect us when I got glandular fever as a teenager.

[Image changes to show Laura’s face as she talks and then the image changes to show Laura walking along a corridor]

It was really intriguing to me to ask, why did I feel sick, and you know, why wasn’t there a cure for this.

[Image changes to show Laura and a colleague entering a laboratory and then the image changes to show Laura looking through a microscope lens]

So, that’s really what got me interested in learning what our body could do to combat the infection.

[Images move through to show tweezers moving a small object in a petri dish, Laura and a colleague in conversation, and then Laura and a colleague working in the lab and talking]

Traditional therapies for cancer involve chemotherapy or radiation whereas we’re now moving into an era of immunotherapy

[Images move through of pink liquid in a beaker, test tubes in a tray, pink liquid being squirted from a pipette into a test tube, and then Laura’s face as she works]

…and this involves harnessing a patient’s own immune system to fight their own cancer.

[Images move through of a reflection of Laura in a window holding up a petri dish, a female colleague looking up at the dish, Laura working on the computer, and then Laura’s face as she talks]

My “Aha” moment came when we were comparing the ability of blood T cells versus tissue T cells to protect against infection and I remember calling my mentor, Frank Harbonie, and saying, “We’ve done it, we’ve stopped the infection”.

[Image changes to show Laura talking to the camera and then images move through of a male looking through eye pieces into a machine, a lab worker looking into a microscope, and Laura talking]

So, these tissue resident T cells we’ve identified, they’re our body’s first line of defence and we found it’s these T cells that do a lot of the heavy lifting and they can protect against infection and also against tumours.

[Image changes to show Laura working in a laboratory with colleagues and the camera zooms in on Laura looking through a microscope and then the camera zooms out to show the laboratory again]

The great thing about this award for my work is that it really puts what we’re doing in the spotlight.

[Image changes to show liquid being squeezed from a pipette]

It makes our research really visible.

[Image changes to show Laura and her colleagues at work on computers and the camera zooms in on Laura and a female colleague]

It’s great for me, my team, my mentors, and my collaborators.

[Image changes to show Laura talking to the camera and the camera zooms in on her face as she talks]

My hope for the future is that our research will have translated into better outcomes and better treatments for patients suffering from a range of diseases such as malaria, influenza and cancer.

[Image changes to show Laura standing in a laboratory and turning to smile at the camera and the camera zooms in on Laura]

[Music plays and an image appears of the Australian Government Coat of Arms and the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year badge and text appears: Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, Associate Professor Laura Mackay, The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Celebrating 20 years]