Immunology

Associate Professor Stuart Berzins leads a research group at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute that is investigating the human immune response to cancer. Associate Professor Berzins is a highly credentialed biomedical researcher, having previously conducted his research at the University of Melbourne, Harvard Medical School and Monash University. He collaborates with national and international research groups, and is working with Prof George Kannourakis (Research Director) and other researchers at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute (FECRI) and Federation University to establish a vibrant regional hub for biomedical research in Ballarat.

His research group is internationally recognized for studies of regulatory immune cells, and he has recently published primary research and review articles in leading international journals that have greatly improved the understanding of how human immune responses against cancer are regulated.

The significance of his research is reflected by recent invitations to speak at the prestigious ‘China Tregs’ conference (Shanghai, China), and to chair a conference session at Australasia’s premier Immunology conference (42nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australasian Society for Immunology (ASI), Convention Centre, Melbourne, Australia). Associate Professor Berzins was also recently named as the overall winner of the Australian Competitive Research Symposium for his presentation of his group’s research. The publicising of his group’s research at these important forums, coupled with Associate Professor Berzins’ leadership role in the Australian research community as the Honorary Secretary for the 1000-strong membership of ASI, are providing important exposure for biomedical research conducted in Ballarat, while also helping to grow interest in these research fields among students in the region.

Associate Professor Berzins’s group has been at the forefront of studies characterizing the development and function of regulatory immune cells in humans. His translational research has included involvement in clinical trials investigating new treatments for patients with haematological cancers (in collaboration with clinical researchers at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre) and type 1 diabetes (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute), and addressing the issue of whether regulatory immune cells are important factors in cancer in humans. He was recruited by Prof Kannourakis to join the Institute and his group has already made some potentially exciting findings from research of immune cells from patients with cancer. An example of this research is the exciting preliminary data from Associate Professor Berzins’ group showing that some human tumours contain unusually high proportions of cells (CD4+ NKT cells) that can inhibit anti-cancer immunity, and low numbers of stimulatory (CD4- NKT) cells that would normally help those responses.

This may help to explain how some cancers escape immune control and if confirmed, it will identify these regulatory cells as potential targets for novel immune-based immunotherapies. Associate Professor Berzins collaborates in these studies with Prof George Kannourakis  and with researchers at the University of Melbourne and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. His research group also shares their expertise with research groups at Federation University and other research centres in studies of regulatory immune cells in other disease contexts, including sports medicine and type 1 diabetes. Collectively, these collaborative research initiatives are consolidating the growth and profile of internationally competitive biomedical research conducted in the Ballarat precinct under the stewardship of the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute and Federation University.