Senior Research Fellow Dr Joshua Ooi has been awarded the 2017 Al and Val Rosenstrauss Research Fellowship to further his research into ANCA-associated vasculitis, a severe autoimmune disease that can destroy the kidneys and lungs.
The highly competitive fellowship, worth $400,000 over four years, will enable Dr Ooi to focus on understanding why the immune system sometimes targets self-proteins and causes autoimmune disease.
“Having already identified the precise autoimmune targets in ANCA-associated vasculitis, I will use this fellowship to translate that knowledge into new targeted therapeutics,” said Dr Ooi, from the Centre for Inflammatory Diseases, Department of Medicine, School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health.
“Current treatments for this disease are mainly non-specific immunosuppressants that affect the beneficial parts of the immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to life-threatening infections.”
Professor Richard Kitching, Director of the Centre for Inflammatory Diseases and Monash Health nephrologist said the trouble with current treatments is they’re non-targeted and non-specific and have side effects that lead to significant and substantial morbidities.
“A better way of treating immune diseases would be to more specifically target the bad cells and antibodies—and it’s these rogue cells that direct the damaging autoimmune response that are the focus of Dr Ooi’s research,” Professor Kitching said.
In recent years, Dr. Ooi has made significant breakthroughs in understanding the cause of disease as well as the specific parts of the kidneys and lungs that are ‘attacked’ by the immune system.
His work has been published in prestigious medical and science journals including Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and The Journal of Clinical Investigation as well as in the top kidney research journal, Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.
“Thanks to this fellowship, I will be able to investigate how we might increase the effectiveness of treatment. I plan to develop new therapies that shut down the part of the immune system that is attacking self-proteins, while leaving protective immunity against invading pathogens intact,” Dr Ooi said.
One of Dr. Ooi’s recent discoveries, published in Nature, details how specific immune cells (known as regulatory T cells) that recognise proteins found in the kidneys and lungs can confer protection from autoimmune disease.
“Based on these findings, I’ve developed new experimental therapies that can induce this protective cell type in patients and I will use this fellowship to translate my experimental findings into a clinical treatment.”