Local student helps make breakthrough

By David Rak

Seymour Technical High School graduate Jesse Rudd-Schmidt has helped drive a study into specialised immune cells and was co-first author on a publication in a scientific journal.

Researchers from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and University College London recently discovered specialised immune cells, capable of killing off infections and cancers, can escape their own destructive properties by creating a protective outer shield.

The work helps to explain how the human immune system can be so effective in killing rogue cells, and why some cancers may be more resistant to killing by the immune system.

Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) kill through the action of a protein perforin, which punches holes in the outer membranes of target infected and cancerous cells, allowing a cargo of toxic molecules to enter the cells, causing them to die.

Exactly how killer CTLs avoid punching destructive holes in their own membranes has remained, until now, a mystery.

New research, published in Nature Communications, has revealed the key to CTL self-protection lies in an ordered and electrically-charged envelope that wraps the immune cells in an impenetrable protective layer.

Mr Rudd-Schmidt said when the researchers artificially disrupted the order of lipids in the membranes of CTLs, they became more sensitive to perforin.

They also found some of the lipids in the CTL membrane were negatively charged, which helped to capture and inactivate perforin molecules to prevent self-damage.

These results confirm the importance of lipid organisation and charge in determining whether or not a cell is capable of being killed by CTLs.

This could have important implications for new anti-cancer immunotherapies that activate the immune system to recognise and kill cancers.

Mr Rudd-Schmidt graduated from Seymour Technical High School in 2005 and began studying a double degree in science and nanotechnology at La Trobe University in 2007, majoring in both biochemistry and physics.

He completed honours in biochemistry, focusing on malaria, before graduating in 2011 and getting a job at Peter Mac.

‘‘I’ve been working as a research assistant in the Killer Cell Biology Laboratory, led by Associate Professor Ilia Voskoboinik, for the past eight years,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m very proud to have been part of this research. I hope it shows current students in Seymour and other regional areas the opportunities that are out there if you work hard.

‘‘I love my job. I would encourage all students to give science a chance during their education, as working in research can be incredibly rewarding.

‘‘Science may not end up being your cup of tea but I think it’s important to give it a shot at some point to see if it sparks your enthusiasm.

‘‘For me, scientific research is work that keeps you on your toes and gives you a chance to be part of some very important breakthroughs.’’