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Major International Honour For Research

Major International Honour For Research

Pioneering research first published by Professor Graham Le Gros has received a major international honour by being selected as a “Pillar of Immunology”. Prof Le Gros is the Director of the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, a leading immunology research centre based in Wellington.

A Pillar of Immunology is a cornerstone scientific discovery that has revolutionised the way we think about and understand how our immune systems function. They are selected by a panel of world-renowned immunologists on behalf of the Journal of Immunology, a premier publication for the field of immunology.

To date there have only been 30 such published scientific pieces of work (out of the many hundreds of thousands going back to the 1960s) that have been awarded this prestigious title. “The research paper demonstrated how simple cell based assays could be used to understand what happens during immune responses,” Prof Le Gros said. “It revealed unexpected properties for the T cell produced cytokine IL-4 and how it coordinated the allergic immune response.”

The extraordinary scientific insight provided by Prof Le Gros and his colleagues’ ingenious approach to understanding the basic biology of interleukin-4 (IL-4), one of the most influential cytokine hormones of the immune system, is as relevant today as it was when it was first published back in 1990.

Although there have been significant advancements in our understanding of how IL-4 controls and directs allergic and asthmatic immune responses since this work was first published, Prof Le Gros’ research has withstood intense scientific critique for nearly 20 years, thus cementing its place in history as a classic immunology discovery.

The landmark research combined the scientific skills of leading researchers from the USA, Israel and New Zealand into a highly productive collaboration, under the leadership of Dr William Paul, at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA. However, Prof Le Gros also credits part of this discovery to the experiences and insight he gained as a PhD student in Professor Jim Watson’s HRC (Health Research Council) funded laboratory back home in New Zealand.

“In Jim Watson’s lab we were always encouraged to think big, to make our own hypotheses and to work very hard. Allied with the scientific resources available at that time I was able to gain tremendous insight into how basic immunological processes worked,” Prof Le Gros said.


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