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Dr Michelle Linterman at Babraham Institute wins £250,000 Lister Prize for work on flu infection

Dr Michelle Linterman has won the £250,000 Lister Institute Research Prize Fellowship for work on how lung tissue responds to an influenza infection.

Her group at the Babraham Institute studied the impact of flu in mice and discovered that the body remodels its lung tissue to support the immune system response and the production of antibodies.

Dr Michelle Linterman at the Babraham Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Michelle Linterman at the Babraham Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell

As the Cambridge Independent reported, they discovered a cascade of events that lead to the creation of immune cell hubs, called germinal centres, where white blood cells collaborate for co-ordinated activity against the invading pathogen.

These centres help create cross-reactive antibodies that can confer wider protection.

The hope is this knowledge could be exploited when creating the annual vaccinations against the prevailing strain that would also protect against further strains.

“The prize is to find the next step in that research,” Dr Linterman told the Cambridge Independent. “We know these structures form in the lung but we don’t actually know what their precise function is or the cues that are required for their formation.

“The Lister Prize will help us focus on understanding that more and my goal is to understand whether those structures that form in the lung are functionally different to the ones that form in normal secondary lymphoid tissues.

“The reason that is important and exciting is that if it has a different role you could start to think about changing the routes of vaccination.

“At least in older mice, the response in the lung seems to be intact, whereas in the secondary lymphoid tissue it is less so.

Dr Michelle Linterman in the lab. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Michelle Linterman in the lab. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Maybe it is not just vaccine formulations that we need to change but also the route of administration to make them more effective.”

Six Lister Prizes are awarded annually to researchers in the early years of running their own groups and are designed to help them develop their potential through flexible funding over a five-year period.

Institute director Professor Michael Wakelam said: “On behalf of the institute community, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate Michelle on this well-deserved award. Michelle has already established herself as a significant presence in her research field and the Lister Prize will be hugely beneficial in allowing Michelle to expand her networks while following some exciting research leads.”

Dr Linterman has a degree in biomedical science from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She completed a PhD with Professor Carola Vinuesa at the Australian National University on the germinal centre response in autoimmunity, then joined the group of Professor Ken Smith, himself a Lister fellow, as a postdoc at the University of Cambridge. Dr Linterman has been a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, since 2010.

2017 Lister Prize winner Rahul Roychoudhuri at the Babraham Institute. Picture: Richard Marsham
2017 Lister Prize winner Rahul Roychoudhuri at the Babraham Institute. Picture: Richard Marsham

She joins a developing community of Babrham Institute-based Lister fellows. Previous recipients are Professor Wolf Reik (1987) and Professor Phill Hawkins (1988), both of whom subsequently became fellows of the Royal Society.

In 2017, another Babraham Institute researcher, Dr Rahul Roychoudhuri, won the Lister Prize to support him in using powerful new genetic screening approaches to identify the functions of key genes and understand immune system functions.

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