Oncology researcher wins Academy Award for neoadjuvant therapy breakthrough

Thursday, 11 Mar 2021

Associate Professor Michele Teng of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science with one of its 2021 honorific awards for outstanding contribution to science.

Associate Professor Teng has been awarded the 2021 Jacques Miller Medal by the Academy for her research achievement in immunotherapy.

It said her group performed the first preclinical experiments demonstrating that neoadjuvant immunotherapy was much more effective in eradicating metastatic disease, compared to adjuvant immunotherapy after surgery.

“This seminal finding served as the rationale to set up new comparative trials of neoadjuvant and adjuvant immunotherapy in many human cancer types. Recent neoadjuvant clinical trials of various cancers have verified the translatability of her research,” the Academy said.

Associate Professor Teng’s laboratory at QIMR investigates how tumour-induced immunosuppression controls the three phases of cancer immunoediting.

“In particular, my laboratory has a strong interest in investigating the immunosuppressive role of regulatory T cells (Tregs), T cell anergy/exhaustion (mediated by checkpoint receptors), the cytokine IL-23 and its associated cytokine family and immunosuppressive metabolites (adenosine) in the local tumour microenvironment using experimental and de novo mouse models of cancer,” she said.

The laboratory has also recently developed a preclinical mouse model that allows the therapeutic index (antitumor efficacy vs immune-related adverse events (irAEs)) of antibodies targeting various immunomodulatory receptors to be simultaneously assessed for the first time.”

According to the Academy, the Jacques Miller Medal for Experimental Biomedicine was established to honour the contributions made to science by Professor Jacques Miller AC FAA FRS that include the discovery of the function of the thymus and the identification, in mammalian species, of the two major subsets of lymphocytes and their functions.

The award is open to experimental biomedicine researchers eight to fifteen years post PhD in the calendar year of nomination, except in the case of significant interruptions to a research career.

President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Shine, said the research of this year’s 24 awardees was at the forefront of science, not only in Australia but around the world.

“While many of these researchers are having direct impacts on our technology and everyday lives, others are pushing the boundaries of basic research—both of which are vital to the advancement of science.

“The Academy is proud to honour such a diverse range of researchers this year, reflecting the people driving Australian science.”

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