Burnet tall poppy scoops three honours

Burnet Institute

24 November, 2016

IMAGE: Dr Michelle Boyle at work in the laboratory

Burnet Institute researcher Dr Michelle Boyle has been honoured for her work in malaria immunology with a AUD$20,000 grant from the AMP Foundation’s Tomorrow Fund.

The grant follows two awards for excellence for Dr Boyle in recent weeks - the Tall Poppies Award in the Northern Territory and the AMREP Biomedical Research Early Career Researcher Best Paper Award.

She was one of 53 successful applicants to the AMP Tomorrow Fund, which dispenses AUD$1 million in grants for projects across a range of fields.

“This grant will help me continue my research and develop my career here in Australia,” Dr Boyle said.

“With malaria remaining a significant burden of disease in Australia’s closest neighbours, this research will benefit health outcomes within our region in the future.”

Dr Boyle, who has been based in Darwin working on a collaborative research program with the Menzies School for Medical Research, investigates human immunity in relation to malaria.

“Vaccine development is made more difficult because there is an incomplete understanding of how the immune system fights malaria,” she said.

“In collaboration with scientists at Burnet and the Menzies School, I will study a number of different types of immune cells which activate the immune system to produce antibodies that are essential in fighting malaria.”

Dr Boyle has already shown that antibodies interact with complement – an important set of proteins in the blood – to block parasite infection of red blood cells in studies of children and adults in Papua New Guinea and Kenya.

“These findings have important implications for the development of antimalarial vaccines as they identify the specific type and function of antibodies that are able to block infection of red blood cells and mediate protection in children,” she said.

Malaria causes the deaths of more than half a million people a year globally, most of them children.

While a new vaccine has been developed for malaria, its low efficacy levels mean the search for better vaccines continues, especially as parasitic resistance towards traditional treatments increases.

Dr Boyle said she was delighted to receive the grant and both awards, and is looking forward to undertaking the community outreach entailed in the Tall Poppies Award.

This award, made by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science, celebrates young scientists with outstanding research achievements who have demonstrated excellence in science communication and a willingness to become science ambassadors.

“It’s always great to be recognised and it’s great we get the opportunity to do some more outreach, because I’m passionate about that,” she said.

The AMREP Research Prize is awarded annually by the Alfred Medical Research and Education Precinct for the best journal article describing original research.

Dr Boyle was awarded the prize for her role as lead author in a study published in Immunity: Human antibodies fix complement to inhibit Plasmodium falciparum invasion of erythrocytes and are associated with protection against malaria.

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