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21 Aug 2020

Meet the team: Dr Simone Park is improving cancer immunotherapies

University of Melbourne Dr Simone Park, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Doherty Institute was just awarded a prestigious University of Melbourne Chancellor's Prize for 2020, for her research 'The role of CD8+ tissue-resident memory T cells in melanoma immune surveillance.'

Can you introduce yourself and your role at the Doherty Institute?

I am a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Laura Mackay’s laboratory at the Doherty Institute, investigating the development and function of tissue-resident memory T cells in cancer, infection and autoimmunity.

What are you currently working on?

My research focuses specifically on tissue-resident memory T cells. They’re special because they’re anchored permanently in peripheral tissues like the skin, gut and lung, where they act as a frontline defence against invading microbes. My current research focuses on understanding how these cells develop and how we could boost their generation to improve vaccines and cancer immunotherapies.

What initially attracted you to the field of science your area of expertise?

I initially thought I wanted to be a journalist when I finished high school, so I started out studying Media & Communications at university. Pretty quickly I realised that I really missed studying biology and learning how the body works, so I switched over to study science instead. I’ve always been fascinated by the immune system and I am really glad I get to discover more about how immune cells coordinate to protect us from disease every day!

How does this contribute to Australia and the field of science?

So far, our team has discovered that tissue-resident memory T cells are amazing at protecting us against viral infections and cancer – in particular melanoma, for which Australia has one of the highest diagnosis rates in the world. By uncovering how these cells work, we are finding novel ways to create better disease therapies that might one day be used to offer protection or treatment against a wide range of infectious diseases, such as respiratory illnesses, malaria and cancer.

What do you see as the biggest scientific challenges in your area of work?

Immunotherapies have proven to be a major breakthrough in cancer treatment and have saved the lives of many patients. Designing therapies that will work in the vast majority of people is a huge challenge, however, due to the incredible diversity of cancer – no two patients’ cancers are the same.