Immunology enters a promising golden age

December 2015

Over 3000 participants are expected to flock to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in August 2016 to be presented with the most recent advances in immunology research and clinical treatments at the International Congress of Immunology.

The field of immunology has hit an exciting new phase in recent years due to a number of significant discoveries that has allowed scientists to develop a form of cancer therapy that has been extremely successful in treating advanced cases of melanoma and lung cancer in 30-40 percent of patients.

This may very well transform oncology and cancer treatments, as immunotherapy promotes the immune response of patients to fight off tumours cells instead of relying on chemotherapy and radiation, both of which can be very toxic to the body. It also has the potential to be used to treat other conditions, such as asthma, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as create more potent probiotics.

However, it may be quite some time before we see this novel treatment used on a mass scale as it’s still in development. The other hurdle it has to face is the considerable price tag – until it becomes more cost effective, it will struggle to be promoted.

According to Club Melbourne Ambassador Professor Jose Villadangos, from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Bio21 Molecular Science & Biotechnology, presentations of clinical trials and therapies currently in development are what attendees should look forward to at the next year’s congress. Bearing in mind that the field is moving at such a rapid pace, he is optimistic of a major breakthrough being announced at this event.

Despite immunotherapy being very much in the public eye, Villadangos warns that we should not forget the other important work happening in immunology – the development of drugs and vaccines to combat some of the most problematic viral and bacterial infections, including HIV, malaria and tuberculosis – the deployment of which could save millions of lives, particularly in developing countries.

Victoria as a global leader
It’s no surprise that the International Congress of Immunology is being hosted by Melbourne next year, considering that immunology and viral research are the hero fields of clinical research in Victoria. It’s a sector that is heavily funded and produces some of the best research on the planet.

After all, some of the biggest names in immunology have come out of Victoria – Ambassador Sir Gus Nossal, who was the director of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research for over 30 years, Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, who won a Nobel Prize for predicting acquired immune tolerance and Ambassador Professor Peter Doherty, who discovered the specificity of the cell mediated immune defence and has been involved in research on immunity for over 50 years.