Emeritus Professor Christopher Parish

B Agr Sci (U Melb), PhD (U Melb)
ANU College of Health and Medicine
T: 6125 2604

Areas of expertise

  • Medical Biochemistry: Carbohydrates 110102
  • Cellular Interactions (Incl. Adhesion, Matrix, Cell Wall) 060106
  • Cellular Immunology 110704
  • Autoimmunity 110703
  • Tumour Immunology 110709
  • Immunology 1107

Research interests

Immunology and cancer biology


Professor Chris Parish received his undergraduate training at the University of Melbourne and then gained a PhD degree in immunology at The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne.  He is currently Leader of the Cancer and Vascular Biology Group, Department of Immunology, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.  During the last 35 years he has investigated various aspects of the immune system.  During the early 1970's he was the first person to demonstrate that cell-mediated immunity and antibody formation are mutually antagonistic responses, an observation that underpins the Th1/Th2 paradigm in immunology. He is currently attempting to harness immune deviation to produce novel anti-cancer vaccines.  Since the late 1970's Professor Parish has also been interested in the role that complex carbohydrates, particularly heparan sulfate, play in cell adhesion and cell migration.  These studies have resulted in heparanase, the enzyme that degrades heparan sulfate, being identified as a drug target and has formed the theoretical basis for the development of several carbohydrate-based drugs, such as PI-88 (Muparfostat), that inhibit inflammation, tumour metastasis and angiogenesis.  In addition, Professor Parish’s laboratory has developed a number of important immunological techniques, such as fluorescent dyes (e.g., CFSE) for monitoring lymphocyte migration and proliferation. His research findings underpin several Australian biotechnology companies, such as Progen Pharmaceuticals and Lipotek.  In 2005 Prof Parish was awarded the Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research in recognition of his scientific achievements.

Researcher's projects

The Cancer and Vascular Biology Group, led by Prof Parish, is generally interested in cell biology aspects of immune regulation, tumour metastasis, angiogenesis and inflammation. More specific research areas are:

(1) Investigating our remarkable finding that both B and T lymphocytes, when activated, can transfer their antigen receptors to bystander lymphocytes by membrane exchange. This process enhances the number of B cells that can capture and present antigen to CD4+ T cells and dramatically expands the number of CD8+ cytotoxic T cells that can clear a viral infection. However, the molecular basis of this phenomenon and its importance in various immune responses needs to be clarified and is an area of intense investigation.

(2) Harnessing the immune response against cancer. We have shown that tumour-specific CD4+ T cells, with a Th2 cytokine profile, are extremely effective at eliminating tumours by recruiting tumouricidal eosinophils into tumours. Eosinophils also play a critical role in tumour immunosurveillance. How eosinophils eliminate tumours and whether adaptive immunity is essential for eosinophil activation are areas of current research. In collaboration with Dr Joe Altin (Research School of Biology, ANU) we have also developed a liposome-based vaccine against cancer that targets dendritic cells. Research is continuing, in collaboration with the start-up biotechnology company Lipotek, to develop better liposome-based vaccines against cancer and other diseases.

(3) Investigating the role of heparan sulfate and heparanase in tumour metastasis, angiogenesis and inflammation is a broad area of research in which the Prof Parish's Laboratory has participated for over 25 years. This area of research is continuing. Interests include the role of heparan sulfate and heparanase in the development of Type I diabetes, the ability of heparanase to localise to the nucleus of cells and regulate gene expression and the development of heparan sulfate mimetics as anti-inflammatory agents.

(4) For many years Prof Parish's Laboratory has been studying histidine-rich glycoprotein (HRG), a blood borne protein that binds heparan sulfate and many other ligands and has been implicated in tumour metastasis and angiogenesis. Research on this molecule continues, with our recent studies suggesting that HRG may play an important role in controlling autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus, by aiding the elimination of dead and dying cells.

(5) A relatively new area of research is investigating the role of platelets in tumour metastasis. Our recent studies suggest that platelets can influence tumour metastasis at two levels, namely (i) by adhering to tumour cells within a tumour, inducing the expression of many genes involved in cell migration and allowing tumour cells to escape from the primary tumour and (ii) by cross-linking blood borne tumour cells to the endothelium and thereby aiding the subsequent entry of tumour cells into tissues. Validation of this hypothesis is a very active area of research.

(6) Finally the Laboratory continues to use in vitro angiogenesis assays, developed in-house, to test compounds from other researchers that may have pro- or anti-angiogenic activities. Pro-angiogenic compounds represent potential therapeutics for cardiovascular disease and anti-angiogenic compounds could be used as anti-cancer agents. The most successful of these collaborations has been with the ARC Centre for Integrative Legume Research where legume associated nodulation factors, which are modified chito-oligosaccharides, have been shown, depending on their structure, to be either pro- or anti-angiogenic.

Available student projects

See Research Projects above

Current student projects

See Research Projects above

Past student projects

See Research Projects above


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  15 July 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers