The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


05 Jun 2020

NHMRC Investigator Grants 2020 | Precursor Exhausted T cells (TPEX) with Dr Daniel Utzschneider

Awarded May 2020 for a period of five years.


Characterization and targeting of precursor exhausted T cells (TPEX) for the treatment of chronic infection and cancer


CD8+ T cells persistently exposed to antigen, such as during chronic infections and cancerous tumors, undergo substantial functional and phenotypic changes. This state is widely known as T cell ‘exhaustion’. However, exhausted T cells can be reinvigorated through checkpoint inhibition – an approach that is at the heart of successful immunotherapy.

In recent years, research by colleagues and myself has identified a subset of cells among the pool of exhausted T cells termed ‘precursors of exhausted T cells’ (TPEX), which are responsible for the boost of immunity following checkpoint blockade. Thus, they are tightly correlated with improved clinical outcome.

Building upon this research, Dr Daniel Utzschneider will undertake a critical functional and molecular characterization of TPEX with the goal to reveal pathways that can serve as novel targets for immunotherapy. 

“My aim with this project is to identify novel pathways that control T cell maintenance and function in response to persistent T cell stimulation, such as those seen in chronic viral infections and cancer,” Dr Utzschneider said.

The results of this project will open up new avenues in the development of new immunotherapies for cancer treatment and will potentially refine current checkpoint blockade therapies.

“This Investigator grant will provide me with the resources and the security to completely focus on my research, helping me to progress further in my scientific career.

“I am convinced the proposed project will be successful and will significantly expand our understanding of the immune system, facilitating the development of novel immunotherapies to improve human health.

“I am very proud to be receiving this Investigator Grant from the NHMRC. It is a very competitive grant,” said Dr Utzschneider.