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The Australian National University

Professor Carola Garcia de Vinuesa

MD (MBBS) PhD FAA
Head, Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease, John Curtin School of Medical Research
ANU College of Health and Medicine
T: +61 (0) 432 130556

Areas of expertise

  • Cellular Immunology 110704
  • Immunogenetics (Incl. Genetic Immunology) 110706
  • Rheumatology And Arthritis 110322
  • Humoural Immunology And Immunochemistry 110705
  • Medical Genetics (Excl. Cancer Genetics) 110311
  • Autoimmunity 110703
  • Biochemistry And Cell Biology 0601
  • Immunology 1107

Research interests

Long-lasting antibody responses are a key component of the mammalian immune system that protect us from the constant challenge of pathogenic bacteria and viruses. The quality of these antibody matters: protective responses against lethal toxins and microbes requires production of antibodies with high affinity. Affinity maturation occurs as a consequence of random somatic mutation of the genes that encode for the B cell receptor. However, this ability to produce long lasting high affinity antiodies is a double-edged sword, as perturbations can result in autoimmune diseases. These diseases include lupus, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and typically occur when the immune system cannot differentiate between invading pathogens and the body’s own cells, resulting in the destruction of these cells.

Our research aims to unravel the complex interaction of cells and molecules that regulate the production of potent, long-lasting immunity, and to identify genetic abnormalities that interfere with this process and may contribute to the development of autoimmunity in humans.

The interaction of B cells and a subset of T-cells known as follicular helper T-cells (Tfh cells) within structures called germinal centres, results in the selection of mutated B cells that can produce more potent antibodies. These B cells then develop into long-lived antibody producing cells that are responsible for immunological memory and fighting off infections.

Our work in the last few years has helped unravel fundamental several aspects of Tfh cell and germinal centre biology. We have shown the transcriptional repressor Bcl-6 drives Tfh formation and Tfh-derived IL-21 acts on B cells to initiate and maintain germinal center reactions. It has also become clear that aberrant formation of Tfh cells (such as that seen in mice homozygous for the san allele of Roquin) contributes to the development of autoantibodies and lupus. In humans, circulating Tfh cells can be found at very small numbers in the blood of healthy individuals, but they are increased in a subset of lupus patients and their numbers correlate with disease severity. 

Recent discoveries include:

  • Identification of a subset of regulatory T cells that enters the follicles to regulate Tfh cells and germinal centers (Nature Medicine 2011).
  • Discovery of a role for autoantibodies in triggering type 1 diabetes (Diabetes 2011).
  • Identification of germinal center Tfh precursors that, like Tfh cells, require Bcl-6 for their formation and are critical for extrafollicular antibody responses (The Journal of Experimental Medicine 2011)

Biography

Carola Vinuesa was born in Spain and obtained a medical degree at the University Autonoma of Madrid. She undertook specialist clinical training in the UK and in 2000 was awarded a PhD by the University of Birmingham. A year later she was the recipient of a Wellcome Trust International Travelling prize Fellowship to do postdoctoral work at The John Curtin School for Medical Research in The Australian National University. Her work led to the discovery of genes important for immune regulation and memory and the identification of a novel pathway of posttranscriptional control of gene expression to prevent autoimmunity. Since 2006 she has been leading the Humoral Immunity and Autoimmunity Group at ANU supported by a Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellowship. Her group identified a critical role for follicular helper T (Tfh) cells in autoantibody-mediated autoimmune diseases and contributed to the characterization of this subset and elucidation of their transcriptional regulation. She is currently investigating the mechanisms that regulate Tfh cells and germinal center selection. In 2008 she was awarded the Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the year and in 2009 the Gottschalk Medal of the Australian Academy of Sciences. She is currently Professor of Immunology at the Australian National University and Head of the Pathogens and Immunity Department.

Publications

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Updated:  25 September 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers