Study level

  • Master of Philosophy
  • Honours


Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.

Research centre


Professor Kirsten Spann
Division / Faculty
Faculty of Health
Adjunct Associate Professor Antiopi Varelias
Adjunct Associate Professor
Division / Faculty
Faculty of Health


Blood cancers, which include leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma account for 10% of all cancers and 9.4% of cancer deaths. Stem cell transplantation (SCT) is the predominant curative therapy for these diseases. However, a major complication is graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) in which the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, skin, lung and liver are preferentially damaged by the transplanted donor immune system, limiting the therapeutic potential of this treatment. Thus, there is a pressing need for new treatment approaches to improve transplant outcome for these patients.

Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is the predominant antibody isotype found at the mucosal surface in the gastrointestinal tract. Importantly, in stem cell transplant recipients, serum IgA levels have been noted to be deficient in patients during the first 6 months after SCT, with those who develop acute or chronic GVHD remaining chronically IgA-deficient. A detailed understanding of the role of IgA in GVHD, particularly in the context of the gut microbiome, is lacking yet of critical importance.

Approaches, skills and techniques

This is dependent on the study level of the student but will involve optimising the detection and localization of IgA in the GI tract using immunofluorescence approaches. The student will gain practical laboratory experience and further their knowledge in the transplantation field. This project will involve histological techniques, confocal microscopy and flow cytometry. The student will have the opportunity to observe and learn other techniques/skills in addition to those required for this project and will work in a stimulating and supportive research environment. Please contact the QIMRB supervisor for more details.


To develop approaches for the detection and spatial localization of IgA production in the GI tract at steady-state and during acute GVHD.

Required skills and experience

This project is open to applications from students with an interest and background in immunology, particularly students interested in pursuing a Honours and/or PhD degree in medical research. Excellent written and oral communication skills are required.



Contact Antiopi Varelias at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute for more information:

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