veski encourages global exchange with visit by Harvard Professor

14 May

In May, veski welcomed Professor Kai Wucherpfennig from Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to Victoria as part of a visit to discuss student exchanges and international collaborations.

His visit included a number of opportunities for veski innovation fellows and board members to meet with Professor Wucherpfennig, and he also participated in a pilot for the inspiring students (and teachers) program. 

According to Professor Wucherpfennig’s former colleague and veski innovation fellow Dr Matthew Call, the visit presents an opportunity of “enormous value” to Victoria – enabling the face-to-face exchange of scientific ideas.

Dr Matthew Call, who has been instrumental in bringing Kai to Victoria, describes intellectual exchange as the “lifeblood” of scientific research, saying, “Most of us meet face-to-face with our contemporaries from across the world maybe once every few years at conferences, so every opportunity to discuss our work in an informal environment is of enormous value”. 

“With Kai’s first visit to Australia, we're not only engaging in exchange of scientific ideas here, but also exploring the ways in which we can get our scientists-in-training involved in exchange,” Dr Call said.

During his visit, Professor Wucherpfennig will participate in a number of events and activities including a special scientific seminar at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute hosted by Dr Matthew Call and Dr Melissa Call, focusing on: 'Molecular mechanism for peptide repertoire selection by HLA-DM'.

Kai’s research focuses on the molecular and structural mechanisms directing antigen presentation and T cell activation, with a particular emphasis on the role these processes play in human autoimmune diseases and in the immune response to cancer. 

He says he studies T cells “because of their fascinating biology and their central role in many human diseases, including autoimmune diseases and cancer. I enjoy developing highly innovative approaches to important questions, working with advanced technologies and writing compelling publications”. 

“Kai doesn't do the kind of ‘just because we can’ experiments that lots of scientists do who are comfortable with a small set of techniques and go in search of problems to which they can be applied,” Dr Call said. 

“Kai chooses what he sees as the most important problems in the field and then goes about building the necessary methodology to get the job done. This requires a lot of time and dedication, but it's how the really exciting new discoveries are made and its fantastic fun for those of us that get a kick out of problem solving,” he said. 

The Wucherpfennig lab applies a wide range of techniques to study the structure and formation of key protein assemblies such as peptide:MHC and antigen receptor complexes and to evaluate the mechanisms by which their interactions lead to either beneficial or destructive immune responses.

Kai completed his MD in 1986 and a PhD in haematology in 1987 at the University of Goettingen in Germany. He then moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he studied the human T cell response to myelin antigens in multiple sclerosis at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard University. He went on to join the faculty at Harvard Medical School and in 1995 joined the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where he continues to be based. 

The visit also gives the German-born Professor, now living in Boston, a chance to indulge one of his favourite pastimes – visiting former students and postdocs living in many different countries.

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