Colby Zaph

veski innovation fellow

In July 2015, Professor Colby Zaph accepted the offer of a veski innovation fellowship worth $150,000 over three years. The funding of this fellowship will be matched in cash and in-kind by his host organisation the Monash University.

Research project: Biological Methylation: a new frontier in the regulation of immunity and inflammation

Mucosal tissues such as the intestine and lung form a physical barrier between the body and the outside world. Cells must differentiate between what’s good for the body, including innocuous food antigens and symbiotic bacteria, and what’s bad, including viruses, parasites and infectious bacteria. A breakdown in this ability to differentiate between good and bad often leads to chronic inflammatory diseases including asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases, food allergies and cancer. 

Chronic inflammatory diseases afflict millions of people and current treatments are less than ideal. With very few Victorian researchers are focused on mucosal immunology, Professor Colby Zaph will provide Victoria with a unique and cutting-edge approach in this important area. 

The pharmaceutical market for the treatment of inflammatory diseases and immune deficiency is worth an estimated $70 billion per year. None of the drugs in the pipeline provide a first line treatment for inflammatory diseases. Professor Colby Zaph will continue to forge strong collaborations with key industry partners with the aim of developing new drugs.

The Zaph laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Monash University is focused on defining the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control immunity and inflammation at these mucosal sites. This understanding represents a potential target for identifying novel therapeutics for the treatment of these diseases. Colby and his team are focusing on both immune cells (T cells) as well as non-immune cells (epithelial cells) that respond to the inflammatory signals. They are defining the role of a class of enzymes that modify proteins to change their function by a process called methylation.

The results from his experiments will begin to identify candidate compounds to translate for use into human subjects. As these inhibitors are developed in partnership with industrial partners, there are immediate opportunities for translational studies in a wide variety of inflammatory disease settings.

Key facts

  • Moved to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where Colby obtained his PhD with research focused on CD4 T cell memory during leishmaniasis.  
  • In 2008, Colby returned to Canada as an independent investigator at the University of British Columbia.
  • Published 23 manuscripts, with 10 as senior author, in leading and influential journals such as Developmental Cell and the Journal of Clinical Investigation. 

“Our research program is focused on working with industrial partners to develop novel therapeutics that will transform the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases such as IBD.”

Colby Zaph