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Tuesday April 02, 2024

Congratulations to Zoe Magill
2023 ASI Career Advancement Awardee - Postgraduate Category


We warmly congratulate
Zoe Magill
Recipient of a 2023 ASI Career Advancement Award - Postgraduate Category


I am a PhD student at the Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University. In 2019, I completed my undergraduate double degree studying a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts at Monash University, where I majored in Immunology and International Relations, respectively. My study of immunology at Monash University ignited my curiosity and passion to understand how dendritic cells (DCs) orchestrate potent immune responses, especially in the context of cancer immunotherapy. I continued to explore this throughout my Honours project in the Dendritic Cells in Health and Disease Research Group, led by Associate Professor Meredith O’Keeffe. I have since commenced a PhD project in the same lab, with the support of a Monash University Research Training Program Scholarship.

My PhD project explores how DCs are affected by melanoma targeted therapies. BRAF and MEK inhibitors are clinically utilised drugs that block the uncontrolled growth of melanoma cancer cells. While these drugs are designed to target cancer cells, there is emerging evidence that they have direct effects on immune cells, including DCs. Given that DCs are required to orchestrate a strong anti-tumour T cell response, my project seeks to understand how BRAF and MEK inhibitors affect DC function, in both mouse and human. Our preliminary data show that certain BRAF inhibitors enhance ex vivo activation of primary mouse DCs. In stark contrast, ex vivo treatment of primary human DCs with BRAF or MEK inhibitors hinders DC activation, which may impair subsequent anti-tumour T cell responses. Importantly, this work demonstrates the divergent responses of mouse and human primary DCs to BRAF and MEK inhibitors, which may underlie variability between preclinical and clinical data on these drugs. Overall, this work may enhance our understanding of interactions between these inhibitors and immunotherapies and potentially lead to improved treatment regiments. Beyond my PhD, I am passionate about pursuing a research career in cancer immunotherapy. In particular, this project has further catalysed my interest in human and translational immunological research.

Zoe Magill presenting a short talk at EMDS2023@VIB
The ASI Career Advancement Award provided the opportunity to attend two overseas conferences and one lab visit. First, I attended the EMDS2023@VIB European Macrophage and Dendritic Cell Society conference from October 18-20 2023 in Ghent, Belgium. Here, I was able to arrange meetings with several international scientists that have laboratories in Belgium. With the support of an additional travel award, I also attended the 3rd Human and Translational Immunology Conference from 23-28 October 2023 in Rhodes, Greece. These conferences provided an unparalleled forum to engage with international peers and leading experts in myeloid cell biology and translational immunology. At both conferences, I was fortunate enough to have my abstract selected for a short talk, which provided the opportunity to share my work and receive valuable feedback that I can apply to the remainder of my PhD project.


Finally, the Career Advancement Award helped facilitate my visit to Professor Felix Meissner’s laboratory (Institute of Innate Immunity, University Hospital Bonn) in Bonn, Germany. Here, I was given the opportunity to learn novel secretomic mass spectrometry techniques. DCs are potent producers of a range of protein mediators that direct anti-tumour immunity and may impact responses to cancer treatment. Therefore, I hope to apply these novel approaches to my project and future work, looking at human DC responses to BRAF and MEK inhibitors and other melanoma therapies.

Overall, this experience has been instrumental to my development as an immunologist. The Career Advancement Award provided me with a unique opportunity to meet, network and learn from a diverse range of international immunologists, opening avenues for future collaboration. Thank-you to ASI for supporting my career development by facilitating this opportunity.

A group photograph with the Meissner Lab in Bonn, Germany

Author: Zoe Magill

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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