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Friday March 01, 2024

Congratulations to Larisa Labzin
2022 ASI Public Engagement Awardee


We warmly congratulate
Larisa Labzin
winner of the 2022 ASI Public Engagement Award

Recognising members who have made significant contributions toward increasing public awareness of Immunology

I was delighted to receive the 2022 ASI Public Engagement Award at the 2022 ASI meeting in Melbourne, from the then President Steven Turner.  I enjoyed both the 2022 meeting in Melbourne and the 2023 meeting in Auckland and loved the chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones at two great meetings.  In addition to public engagement, together with Dr Dominic De Nardo, I co-chair the ASI Innate Immunity SIG, and we are excited to promote innate immunity research in Australia, so watch this space.

I started my immunology career as an honours student with Prof Matt Sweet at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at the University of Queensland (UQ) and have been working on macrophages and innate immune sensing ever since. I did my PhD at the University of Bonn, Germany, with Prof. Eicke Latz on high-density lipoprotein and inflammation. I then did postdoctoral research at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, with Dr Leo James, working on antibody modulation of innate immune sensing. I returned to the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in late 2019 on an NHMRC CJ Martin Fellowship under Prof. Kate Schroder’s guidance. I currently lead the viruses and innate immunity laboratory at the IMB at UQ.  My team studies how innate immune cells such as macrophages sense viral infection to shape an appropriate inflammatory and ensuing adaptive immune response. In particular, we aim to:

1: Decipher how innate immune cells sense neighbouring cell infection and damage. We aim to harness this understanding to limit pathological inflammation during viral infection and autoimmune diseases and stimulate protective inflammation in infectious disease.

2. Elucidate how pre-existing immunity (e.g., virus-specific antibodies) modulates inflammatory responses during infection. We aim to improve vaccine efficacy and safety by understanding how antibodies enhance inflammation.

3. Compare innate immune responses across species to understand why some species (e.g., bats and ducks) are viral reservoirs. We aim to understand the molecular differences in innate immunity across species and use this knowledge to prevent viral zoonosis and protect vulnerable species.

My passion and interest in public engagement started early during the COVID-19 pandemic (April 2020), when I authored an article about antibodies for “The Conversation” website, which is dedicated to promoting scientific literacy. This article kickstarted recurring media appearances, including three further articles for “The Conversation” (>400,000 reads, 101 comments), plus international/national television, radio and print interviews (>60 since 2020). My consistency and excellence resulted in repeat media invitations (8x ABCNews, 4xChannel News Asia, 4xTriple J). Feedback from my interviews calls them “excellent, extremely reassuring and helpful”.

I continue to present talks explaining and discussing the basics of virology and immunology to varied local audiences, including community groups (e.g., Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Foundation; Residents of Stradbroke Tower and Villa, Brisbane), schools (including Macgregor State High, St Margaret’s School), and QLD-based companies (e.g., Robert Bird Group Engineers).

One of the most rewarding aspects of this public engagement was seeing the progress of the vaccines and discussing the benefits of vaccination. One of the more challenging aspects was trying to distil the scientific message into its simplest form so that it was easy to understand, without compromising accuracy. Science isn’t black and white, but we need to be careful about how we discuss that ambiguity, especially with the rise in vaccine hesitancy. A more fun part of the process was testing out different analogies to explain the basics of immunology and virology in a 1-minute clip.

In the future, I hope to communicate more of my direct research and focus on innate immunity to further enhance the work that ASI and my excellent colleagues are doing to help the public understand and value immunology and immunology research in Australia.

Author: Larisa Labzin

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ASI

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