Magdalena Plebanski

Distinguished Professor Magdalena Plebanski

ECP Director, Biomedical and Health Innovation

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Profile photo of Magdalena Plebanski smiling towards the camera against a blue background

Contact details

STEMSchool of Health and Biomedical Sciences


Emailmagdalena.plebanski@rmit.edu.au


Phone: +61 39925 7263


Campus: Bundoora


Centres and Collaborations

Programs

 MEDS2138 - Laboratory medicine


 BIOL2357 - Biomedical Science


 DR227 - PhD (Biomedical Science)


More information

Profile photo of Magdalena Plebanski smiling towards the camera against a blue background

Contact details

STEMSchool of Health and Biomedical Sciences


Emailmagdalena.plebanski@rmit.edu.au


Phone: +61 39925 7263


Campus: Bundoora


Centres and Collaborations

Programs

 MEDS2138 - Laboratory medicine


 BIOL2357 - Biomedical Science


 DR227 - PhD (Biomedical Science)


More information

Distinguished Professor Magdalena Plebanski is an internationally recognised immunologist. In recognition of her contributions, she received the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence 2020.

Overview

Distinguished Professor Magdalena Plebanski is an internationally- renowned leader in immunology and bioengineering research, Head of the Translational Immunology and Nanotechnology Theme, and Head of the Cancer, Ageing, and Vaccines Laboratory at School of Health and Biomedical Sciences. She is also Director of RMIT’s Biomedical and Health Innovation Enabling Capability Platform.

Magdalena forged a stellar career in medical and health research. At Oxford University, she showed new ways in which malaria parasites trick the human immune system and pioneered vaccine modifications now widely used around the world. Magdalena globally changed the design of nanoparticle based vaccines, showing smaller sized particles improve immune responses. This, and her related discoveries, led to 40 patents in 10 patent families supporting her setting up and running two successfully commercialized biotechnology companies in various roles as Director, CSO and CEO.

Currently, Magdalena interests lie in changing the extremely low survival outcomes from ovarian cancer, by identifying new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers in the blood. One of her patented biomarkers currently underlies a large-scale Phase II human clinical trial across 15 hospitals around Australia. Magdalena and her team are also testing innovative gold-based immunotherapies in collaboration with RMIT chemists, as well as collaborating with RMIT nanoengineers to develop practical point-of-care diagnostic devices.

As well as cancer, Magdalena’s team of immunologists, bioinformaticians and geneticists study the impact of ageing on the immune system, and how this changes vaccination responses in the elderly. Her team utilize their expertise in epigenetics, bioinformatics, big data and flow cytometry, as well as access to multiple large scale human clinical trials, to understand the influence of age, sex and mood on the immune response.

Magdalena has published more than 200 peer-reviewed full-length papers, including in leading journals such as Lancet, Nature, Science, Immunity, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Medicine and Nature Communications among others, and has secured more than $30 million in funding from national and international grant bodies, as well as charitable and commercial funding.

As Director of the Biomedical & Health Innovation Enabling Capability Platform (ECP), Magdalena further mentors and supports researchers across the university whose work aligns with the research priorities of this platform: ‘Ageing population’, ‘Population growth and urbanisation’, ‘Regional and global citizenship’ and ‘4.0’ revolution and personalised medicine’. From organising and hosting international symposia, workshops, conferences, funding opportunities, newsletters, establishing and leading Networks, Magdalena brought together hundreds of researchers from multiple Schools and Colleges to form multidisciplinary research groups, that have led to outcomes and impact on real world problems. Examples of impact include a rapid response to staff and students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Indian subcontinent by providing relevant mental health resources and tools. This has since been adapted to create the STEM College Mental Health Resources Kit for staff and students. Another example includes the establishment of the Mental Health Innovation Network, which has published 5 Concept Papers, three webinars for students’ mental wellbeing and a personalised email initiative to support students falling between the cracks during and post- pandemic. Magdalena sees her mentorship role as pivotal to the success of the BHI ECP evidenced by the project, ‘Pathways to Healthy Ageing’ (PHA) it has funded, which started off with a lecturer taking his students to practice ‘hands on learning’ at aged care facilities, to a holistic program that encompasses a multidisciplinary research team at RMIT, hospitals, industry, local councils, the community and receiving small and large external grants.

To learn more about the work the the BHI-ECP are doing, visit Biomedical and Health Innovation at RMIT

Cancer Ageing and Vaccines (CAVA) Lab

A research overview presented by Magdalena Plebanski, Head of the Cancer Ageing and Vaccines (CAVA) Laboratory at School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT.

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Industry experience

  • Plebanski has around 40 patents in 10 patent families.
  • Two of her patents for malaria treatments accrued related patents in over 10 countries, leading to multiple Phase I and II human trials before being purchased by Oxford Biomedica.
  • One of her patents led to development of a biotechnology company Panvax Pty Ltd (joint venture with ARI/ Burnet institute), then Plebanski’s own independent company PX Biosolutions Pty Ltd. This patent was then acquired by the international Charity Reliable Cancer Therapies (Belgium).
  • Another of her nanoparticle patents was licensed to the Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma and Airways in 2008 before also being acquired by DROIA Ventures.
  • Her current patent for ovarian cancer diagnosis underlies the major human Phase II clinical trial funded by AstraZeneca (SOLACE2).
  • In 2020, Plebanski led the RMIT and ECHAlliance ‘Australia and Europe – Digital Health Transformation, Agility and Resilience’ international webinar.
  • Plebanski is the National Spokesperson for the ‘State of the Nation Report on Ovarian Cancer’ (2020).
  • Plebanski sits on the SAB of diverse large scale charitable institutions.
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Research

Magdalena and her team are currently dedicated to changing the extremely low survival outcomes from ovarian cancer, the most lethal of all female reproductive cancers. Early detection is notoriously difficult with this type of cancer, which her team hope to rectify by using epigenetics, bioinformatics and immunoassays (e.g. Flow cytometry) to identify new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers. These biomarkers are being incorporated into practical point-of-care diagnostic devices designed by RMIT nanoengineers.

One of her patented biomarkers is currently being utilised in a large-scale Phase II human clinical trial, SOLACE2, which is testing new combinations of drugs for recurrent ovarian cancer. This trial is in collaboration with WEHI and is across 15 hospitals around Australia. Magdalena is also working with collaborators across multiple Schools at RMIT, and globally, to develop alternative ovarian cancer treatments, such as gold-based drugs that show superior selectivity and activity for otherwise drug-resistant cancer cells.

As well as cancer, Magdalena’s team are using big data and bioinformatics, as well as epigenetics and microbiomics, to study the impact of ageing on the immune system. In a large Phase II clinical trial with 600 participants, Magdalena, her team, and her collaborators at Launceston General Hospital (Prof. Katie Flanagan), are generating an extensive biobank of blood and tissue samples, as well as psychological and nutrition tests, of young and older volunteers. With these samples, they hope to study the impact of ageing, sex, diet and mood on the immune system and how these differences may affect responses to vaccines such as influenza, whooping cough, cancer and diabetes. Excitingly, new trials have also started using similar tools to study the immune response to COVID-19 and its immunological side effects (long-COVID19 and post-COVID19) as well as COVID19 vaccines in vulnerable populations, particularly pregnant women and older individuals.

Magdalena’s work to optimise vaccine design by combining immunology and bioengineering still continues. Her team is currently combining particle engineering, comprehensive proteomics analysis, and whole human blood immune assays to investigate the relationships between particle design, protein corona composition, and the association of particles with human immune cells. They are also working to enhance the immune response using nanoparticle and adjuvant combinations and assessing their potential in vaccines.

Research keywords

Immunology, Vaccines, Nanoparticles, Cancer, Ovarian cancer, T cells, Malaria, Immunotherapy, Healthy ageing

Research output summary

255

Publications

$29 million

Projects

11

Awards

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Supervisor interest areas

  • Immunology
  • Cancer
  • Vaccines
  • Epigenetics
  • Mental health
  • Nanoparticles
  • Ageing
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Non-specific effects of vaccines
  • T cells
  • New cancer treatments
  • Ageing immune system
  • Link between immunity and the brain

Supervisor projects

  • Age-related immune dysfunction, inflammation, and nutritional status: implications to infections, cancers and vaccine response.
  • Epigenetics in immunosenescence: implications to cancer and infections.
  • Metagenetic approach to analyse vaccine immunomodulation in the elderly.
  • Mood and Immunity in the Elderly: Big Data and Systems Biology.
  • Understanding the role of protein corona on nanoparticle-cell interactions for improved nanomedicine.
  • Enhancing the immune response using nanoparticles and assessing their vaccine potential in animal models of cancer and malaria.
  • Gold-based drugs for the effective treatment of ovarian cancer
  • Immunomodulatory properties of natural anti-cancer compounds.
  • Ovarian cancer and the immune system.
  • Using biobanks to study cancer targets and develop cancer vaccines.

Feature publications

Robust and prototypical immune responses toward influenza vaccines in the high-risk group of Indigenous Australians

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118 (41) 

Hensen et al. (2021).

Size-dependent immunogenicity: therapeutic and protective properties of nano-vaccines against tumors

Journal of Immunology, 2004;173(5):3148-54

Fifis et al. M. (2021).

Altered peptide ligands narrow the repertoire of cellular immune responses by interfering with T-cell priming

Natural Medicine 1999;5(5):565-71

Plebanski M et al. (1999).

Key publications by year

  • Ahmad, S., et al. (2021). "Cancer Nanomedicine and Immune System—Interactions and Challenges." Frontiers in Nanotechnology 3(43).
  • Cox, M., et al. (2021). "Potential Impact of Human Cytomegalovirus Infection on Immunity to Ovarian Tumours and Cancer Progression." Biomedicines 9.
  • Henderson, E., et al. (2021). "The Development of Nanoparticles for the Detection and Imaging of Ovarian Cancers." Biomedicines 9(11).
  • Hensen, L., et al. (2021). "Robust and Prototypical Immune Responses Towards Influenza Vaccines in the High-Risk Group of Indigenous Australians. "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2021, 118 (41) e2109388118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2109388118
  • Kang, S.-W., et al. (2021). "Active Ratio Test (ART) as a Novel Diagnostic for Ovarian Cancer." Diagnostics 11(6).
  • Karimnia, N., et al. (2021). "Chemoresistance is mediated by ovarian cancer leader cells in vitro." Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research 40(1): 276.
  • Kartikasari, A. E. R., et al. (2021). "Tumor-Induced Inflammatory Cytokines and the Emerging Diagnostic Devices for Cancer
  • Detection and Prognosis." Frontiers in Oncology 11(2641). Mirzadeh, N., et al. (2021). "Dinuclear orthometallated gold(I)- gold(III) anticancer complexes with potent in vivo activity through an ROS-dependent mechanism." Metallomics 13(7).
  • Wilson, A., et al. (2021). "DPP4 Inhibitor Sitagliptin Enhances Lymphocyte Recruitment and Prolongs Survival in a Syngeneic Ovarian Cancer Mouse Model." Cancers 13(3): 487-487.
  • Azid, N.-A., et al. (2020). "A profile of TNFR2+ regulatory T cells and CD103+ dendritic cells in the peripheral blood of patients with asthma." Hum. Immunol.
  • Chakraborty, A., et al. (2020). "A Novel Approach for Non-Invasive Lung Imaging and Targeting Lung Immune Cells." Int. J. Mol. Sci. 21(5): 1613-1613.
  • Cox, M., et al. (2020). "Limited Impact of Human Cytomegalovirus Infection in African Infants on Vaccine-Specific Responses Following Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis and Measles Vaccination." Front. Immunol. 11: 1083-1083.
  • Hatmal, M. m., et al. (2020). "Comprehensive Structural and Molecular Comparison of Spike Proteins of SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, and Their Interactions with ACE2." Cells 9(12): 2638-2638.
  • Hensen, L., et al. (2020). Immune responses to an inactivated influenza vaccine in Indigenous Australians. The Journal of Immunology.
  • Kampan, N., et al. (2020). "Pre-operative sera interleukin-6 in the diagnosis of high-grade serous ovarian cancer." Sci. Rep. 10(1). Moody, R., et al. (2020). "Natural Compounds with Potential to Modulate Cancer Therapies and Self-Reactive Immune Cells." Cancers 12(3): 673-673.
  • Powles, L., et al. (2020). "Pullulan-Coated Iron Oxide Nanoparticles for Blood-Stage Malaria Vaccine Delivery." Nato Adv Sci Inst Se 8(4): 651-651.
  • Skwarczynski, M., et al. (2020). "Poly(amino acids) as a potent self- adjuvanting delivery system for peptide-based nanovaccines." Sci. Adv. 6(5).
  • Wilson, K. L., et al. (2020). "Biodegradable PLGA-b-PEG Nanoparticles Induce T Helper 2 (Th2) Immune Responses and Sustained Antibody Titers via TLR9 Stimulation." Nato Adv Sci Inst Se 8(2): 261-261.
  • Wilson, K. L., et al. (2020). Utilising nanoparticles to enhance the vaccine induced T cell immune response. The Journal of Immunology.
  • Al-Hatamleh, M. A. I., et al. (2019). "Synergistic Effects of Nanomedicine Targeting TNFR2 and DNA Demethylation Inhibitor- An Opportunity for Cancer Treatment." Cells 9(1).
  • Chakraborty, A., et al. (2019). "Glycine microparticles loaded with functionalized nanoparticles for pulmonary delivery." Int. J. Pharm. 570: 118654-118654.
  • Vemuri, R., et al. (2019). "The microgenderome revealed: sex differences in bidirectional interactions between the microbiota, hormones, immunity and disease susceptibility." Semin Immunopathol 41(2): 265–275-265–275.
  • Wilson, A., et al. (2019). "Non-Invasive Fluorescent Monitoring of Ovarian Cancer in an Immunocompetent Mouse Model." Cancers 11(1).
  • Wilson, K. L., et al. (2019). "A Synthetic Nanoparticle Based Vaccine Approach Targeting MSP4/5 Is Immunogenic and Induces Moderate Protection Against Murine Blood-Stage Malaria." Front Immunol 10: 331.
  • Wilson, K., et al. (2019). "Malaria vaccines in the eradication era: current status and future perspectives." Expert Rev. Vaccines 18(2): 133–151-133–15
  • Chakraborty, A., et al. (2018). "Amino Acid Functionalized Inorganic Nanoparticles as Cutting-Edge Therapeutic and Diagnostic Agents." Bioconjug Chem 29(3): 657-671.
  • Kampan, N. C., et al. (2018). "Immunotherapeutic interleukin-6 or interleukin-6 receptor blockade in cancer: Challenges and opportunities " Curr Med Chem 25(36): 4785–4806-4785–4806
  • Wilson, A. L., et al. (2018). "Autoantibodies against HSF1 and CCDC155 as Biomarkers of Early-Stage, High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer." Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 27(2): 183- 192.
  • Xiang, S. D., et al. (2018). "Design of Peptide-Based Nanovaccines Targeting Leading Antigens From Gynecological Cancers to Induce HLA-A2.1 Restricted CD8+ T Cell Responses." Frontiers in immunology 9: 2968-2968.
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Feature projects

Ovarian cancer

From laboratory discovery of new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers, to large scale human clinical trials

Vaccines

From engaging nanotechnology to deliver a new generation of more effective and safer vaccines - to large scale Phase II human clinical trials optimising the use of current vaccines in vulnerable groups such as older adults and pregnant women. Vaccines against diphteria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza and SARS- COV2.

Healthy ageing

Mapping changes in the immune system and the microbiome as we grow older in large scale human clinical trials using high throughput omics approaches: ssRNAseq, epigenetics, microbiome, cytokines, metabolic and immune cell profiling (with a focus on T cells).

Key projects

  • Age-related immune dysfunction, inflammation, and nutritional status: implications for infections, cancers and vaccine response
    This project aims to pinpoint cellular, molecular and epigenetic mechanisms that drive age-related immunosenescence and inflammation, critical to the decline in immune function and ability to respond to vaccines, infections and cancers in the elderly. This can be done in the context of human vaccination trials, as well as cancer human clinical trials.
  • Metagenetic analysis of vaccine immunomodulation in the elderly
    In a world-first large-scale human vaccine (DTP and influenza) trial (n=600), we will map how innate immunity and innate training differs in humans based on age and sex, and how this affects responses to vaccines.
  • Mood and Immunity in the Elderly: Big Data and Systems Biology
    In this cross-disciplinary study, we will correlate inflammatory status and epigenetic monocyte programming, with depression in young and elderly volunteers.
  • Understanding the role of protein corona on nanoparticle-cell interactions for improved nanomedicine
    This project combines particle engineering, comprehensive proteomics analysis, and whole human blood immune assays to investigate the relationships between particle design, protein corona composition, and the association of particles with human immune cells.
  • Enhancing the immune response using nanoparticles and assessing their vaccine potential in animal models of cancer and malaria
    This study aims to examine the immune response to nanoparticle vaccines with various adjuvant combinations and examine how they stimulate a strong immune response, capable of protecting against severe diseases such as ovarian cancer or malaria.
  • Gold-based drugs for the effective treatment of ovarian cancer
    This project will test new gold-based compounds as alternatives to current ovarian cancer chemotherapies using a novel immunocompetent ovarian cancer mouse model.
  • Immunomodulatory properties of natural anti-cancer compounds
    This project aims to identify changes in expression of key molecules important to ovarian cancer immunotherapy and potential wider implications for the treatment of chronic disease. We are currently interested in two natural compounds (Xanthatin and L-carnosine) that have the potential to modulate immune responses and thereby effectively contribute to cancer treatment.
  • Ovarian cancer and the immune system
    This project aims to identify novel immune biomarkers in blood for ovarian cancer diagnostics and prognostics, with utility in the clinic alone or combined with existing tests. These will help women be diagnosed earlier and get onto the correct treatment earlier as well, resulting in increased survival.
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Awards

RMIT Awards: Vice-Chancellor's Award for Research Excellence, SEH Media Star Award, Distinguished Professor

Award date: 2020, 2020, 2021

Recipients: Magdalena Plebanski

NHMRC Senior Research Fellow LvlA, 2014; LvlB including Translational Award

Award date: 2019

Recipients: Magdalena Plebanski

Howard Hughes International Fellow in Infectious Diseases (Howard Hughes Medical Institute, USA)

Award date: 2000

Recipients: Magdalena Plebanski

Key awards by year

  • Distinguished Professor, RMIT University 2021
  • Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence, RMIT University, 2020
  • RMIT SEH Media Star, RMIT University, 2020
  • Adjunct Professor, Monash University 2018 
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Tasmania, 2017
  • Howard Hughes International Scholar, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (USA), 2000
  • Honorary MA and Fellowship of Linacre College, University of Oxford, 1998 (UK)
  • Honorary Professor, Centre for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV, Mexico), 1998
  • Honorary MA and Fellowship of Keble College, University of Oxford, 1995 (UK)
  • Overseas PhD Scholarship (dGAPA), University of Mexico, 1988
  • Medal Gabino Barreda, University of Mexico, 1987
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Grants

  • Gold-based drugs for the effective treatment of ovarian cancer. Funded by: Australia-India Strategic Research Fund - Competitive from (2021 to 2025)
  • Multiple Primary Tumours – Genetic Susceptibility, Metastasis and Survival (administered by WEHI). Funded by: Cancer Council Victoria Venture Grants from (2020 to 2022)
  • Solace2 Translational sub-study (administered by Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group). Funded by: Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group from (2019 to 2024)
  • Innovative immune-based therapies and diagnostics: using nanotechnology for personalized medicine. Funded by: NHMRC Research Fellowships from (2019 to 2023)
  • Preventing type 1 diabetes progression via a tolerance inducing vaccine (Administered by Victoria University). Funded by: ARC Special Research Initiatives via other University Grant (2014 onwards) from (2019 to 2021)
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Public and media engagements

  • Interviewed at ABC News (paper and radio interviews)
    19 interviews regarding her expertise on COVID-19 and vaccine development
  • Interviewed at SBS News
    3 interviews regarding her expertise on COVID-19 and vaccine development

2021

2020

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.