Doctor Michelle Boyle

Doctor Michelle Boyle

Dr Michelle Boyle
Working Group head of Cellular Responses to Disease and Vaccination at Burnet Institute

As a Snow Fellow, Dr Boyle will aim to transform our understanding of immune development to malaria by using best unique human samples and cutting-edge technologies. Malaria is a parasitic disease which remains one of the biggest killers in children under five years of age globally. In areas of high malaria transmission, disease also drives social and economic hardships. Part of the difficulty in malaria control is the lack of an effective vaccine for children. Dr Boyle’s research will shed light on how immunity to malaria develops and is disrupted in children who are infected with malaria. Using new tools to study the human immune system, Dr Boyle’s team will then identify and test drugs that can be used to improve protection. Immune boosting therapeutics may have application to other intractable infections and in vulnerable communities such as the elderly.

Dr Boyle completed her PhD in 2012 (University of Melbourne) and received the Victorian Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research, Commended Award (2013). From 2013-2015, she was an NHMRC CJ Martin Early Career Fellow at University of California, San Francisco. Returning to Australia, Dr Boyle developed an independent program focused on

cellular mechanisms driving human immunity to malaria. She was awarded the AIPS Young Tall Poppy Science Award (2016) and was recruited to QIMR-Berghofer in 2018 as an EMBL-Australia Group Leader. Her current research at Burnet Institute is supported by a CSL Centenary Fellowship.

Dr Boyle has a focus on improving equity and diversity in research and will continue to focus on training research scientists from underrepresented groups including women, and researchers from malaria endemic areas.

Developing malaria vaccines and theraputics

Dr Boyle’s research aims to develop vaccines and therapeutics for malaria through novel insights in human immunity. Her research has made fundamental discoveries of specific types and functions of antibodies that protect from malaria, and the CD4 T cells that drive protective responses. To translate these findings, she is currently leading a human malaria infection clinical trial to investigate if host directed therapy can boost immune development.

With the Snow Medical Fellowship, Dr Boyle will accelerate her research program by directly investigating the human immune response within secondary lymphoid tissues within the body where immunity develops. With a team of national and international collaborators, she will study the development of malaria immunity in tonsils and spleens collected from children and adults with malaria. These unique clinical samples will allow Dr Boyle and her team to dissect the immune response directly in human malaria infection for the first time. To take this research to the mechanistic level, Dr Boyle will use a laboratory based germinal centre system using human cells and use this system to identify and test therapeutics that can boost the immune response.

Findings for this research will have broad implications for other chronic infections where protective immune development is compromised, and in populations such as the elderly and immune compromised individuals who have sub-optimal immune responses.

More about Michelle’s research