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QIMR Berghofer scientist recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours

QIMR Berghofer’s world-leading immunologist, Professor Rajiv Khanna, has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Professor Khanna, who is the Coordinator of QIMR Berghofer’s Centre for Immunotherapy and Vaccine Development, is currently leading four world-first clinical trials using immunotherapy to treat cancers and other conditions.

In 2015, he and collaborators started a clinical trial targeting the malignant cancer glioblastoma, which is one of the deadliest and most difficult-to-treat cancers.

Professor Khanna has also developed an immunotherapy treatment which is currently in clinical trials, both in Australia and internationally, for the head and neck cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

He and collaborators have developed a cellular treatment for progressive multiple sclerosis, which is also in clinical trials. He has also developed an immune-based therapy, which is currently in clinical trials, to prevent or treat complications in transplant patients.

Professor Khanna said he was very humbled by the honour.

“It’s recognition of 20 years of work, and it’s a recognition of my whole team,” he said.

“Professor Denis Moss and I started to work together on immunotherapy hoping it would lead to new treatments, and that has become a reality. We never imagined that we would be here, where we are today.”

“If our treatments can improve the life expectancy and the quality of life for patients, then we will have achieved our goal.

“Cancers, like brain cancer, remain a challenge, but I’m sure that with the collaborative work that’s being done at QIMR Berghofer and other institutions we will have some positive outcomes in future.”

Over the last 10 years, immunotherapy has emerged as the “fourth pillar” in cancer treatment, along with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Some immunotherapy treatments involve taking a patient’s own immune cells and “boosting” or “training” them to destroy viruses that are present in cancer cells.

However, in some cases patients are not well enough for their own immune cells to be used. For these patients, Professor Khanna and his team have also developed treatments using immune cells from healthy donors.

Professor Khanna arrived in Australia in 1989 after completing his doctoral studies in India. He started at QIMR Berghofer in 1990, and has spent most of the last 27 years at the Institute.

He has also contributed to the development of stronger relations between Australia and India, particularly in the areas of science and medical research.

QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO, Professor Frank Gannon, congratulated Professor Khanna on the award.

“I am delighted that Rajiv has received this great honour,” Professor Gannon said.

“His work stands to improve the way we treat cancers and other debilitating conditions, so this is a very fitting recognition of his contribution to the Australian community.”

A member of the QIMR Berghofer Council, Professor John Shine AO, has also been named a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to medical research, particularly in the areas of biopharmaceuticals and molecular biology, and for supporting the advancement of innovation in science.