Winner: B-cell Team, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

B-cell mystery busted at last

A team of Melbourne researchers has finally unravelled the workings of the rare, specialised cells in our blood that generate antibodies to fight infection and disease.

Known as antibody secreting cells (ASCs), they start life as B-cells in the bone marrow. Our immune system carefully manages them every step of the way to protect against immune deficiency and ensure that appropriate levels of the right antibodies are maintained.

For their elegant theory explaining how ASC cells are produced, Professor Philip Hodgkin’s team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research has won the University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.

To produce the antibodies essential for long-term protection against infection, B-cells develop into ASCs, budding off other types of immune cells along the way. Until now the lack of understanding of this process—how the resulting ASCs ‘choose’ which antibody to make, and how they survive for long periods—has been a barrier holding back the design of efficient vaccines and immune deficiency treatments.

“Philip Hodgkin’s team took a unique approach to solve this problem, and have finally revealed how the different immune cells are made,” Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay said. “This is a step-increase in our understanding that will aid the global effort to develop immune deficiency treatments and vaccines.”

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards. The Eureka Prizes have been rewarding science since 1990—celebrating 25 years in 2014.

The other finalists were:

  • The University of Sydney’s EarthByte team for their experimental virtual Planet that allows researchers to move continents around—and backwards and forwards in time.
  • Professor Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, who’s found there’s a limit to how much climate change humans can adapt to, and shown which parts of Earth will become uninhabitable under expected climate change scenarios.

Watch their YouTube video

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