Dr Kylie Quinn is a Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at RMIT University where she leads the Ageing and Immunotherapies research group. Her current research is focused on understanding how ageing alters T cell immunity in older individuals, with the ultimate aim of optimising immune function during vaccination and cell-based therapies.
One key area of research is focused on a new immune cell-based therapy for cancer, called chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy (CTT). In CTT, a patient’s T cells are activated, modified with a chimeric antigen receptor directed against a tumour-associated antigen, and transferred back into the patient to eliminate malignant cells. It can achieve striking remission rates, but it can be more variable in older patients, as aged T cells become more difficult to activate and T cell function shifts with age. Her work aims to identify what mechanisms limit T cell activation during ageing and to remove that barrier during the CTT protocol, thereby tailoring CTT for older patients.
Her other key area of research is focused on understanding how to trigger optimal T cell responses through vaccination in older patients. Older individuals tend to have poorer T cell responses to novel infections and vaccines due to deficits in naïve T cell populations. They can also have reduced responses to previously encountered infections due to changes in memory T cell composition and quality. Her work aims to identify optimal mechanisms of adjuvancy and other adjunct therapeutics to improve vaccine responses in older patients.
Prior to joining RMIT University, Dr Quinn was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Monash University and the University of Melbourne, and a Visiting Fellow at the National Institutes of Health in the USA, where she worked on defining how novel vaccine formulations work and contributed key pre-clinical data for Ebola vaccines that were selected by the World Health Organisation for trials in the 2014 epidemic in West Africa. Since arriving in Australia in 2013, her research focused on ageing and immunity. She has received a number of awards for her work, including the John and Eileen Haddon Award for Geriatric Research from the Rebecca L Cooper Foundation (2019), Jared Purton Award for an Emerging Researcher in Immunology from the Australia and New Zealand Society of Immunology (2019) and the RMIT University Rising Media Star Award (2020).
More broadly, Dr Quinn is passionate about communicating science to the public and has a long-standing interest in issues of equity and inclusion in science. She is the current Australia and New Zealand Society of Immunology Women’s Initiative Co-ordinator (2019-2021) and has engaged extensively with a wide variety of media outlets and public forums in Australia and internationally to support vaccine education during the 2020/21 COVID pandemic.