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.