Our People

Antiopi Varelias

Associate Professor | Team Head

Transplant Immunology

+61 7 3362 0322



Associate Professor Antiopi Varelias was recently appointed to Faculty as a Team Head and leads the Transplantation Immunology laboratory at QIMR. She was awarded her PhD from The University of Adelaide in 2002 and held post-doctoral positions within the University of Adelaide’s Department of Surgery and the Department of Haematology/Oncology at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide. She relocated to Brisbane in 2008 to join the Bone Marrow Transplantation laboratory at QIMR led by Professor Geoffrey Hill. This was a highly productive period in her career with many notable publications in top-tier journals.

Whilst at QIMR, her research has focused on understanding the immunological mechanisms that underpin major complications that often occur after stem cell transplantation, the “gold standard” treatment option for haematological malignancies. Although preclinical models of disease are central to her research, she has contributed to the translation of basic research findings into clinical trials. She has been the recipient of competitive research funding from the NH&MRC and the Cancer Council Queensland to investigate and validate new therapeutic pathways/targets to improve transplant outcome for patients.


  • Team Head, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
  • Member, Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre (AIDRC)
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health, QUT
  • Honorary Senior Fellow, Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland
  • Convenor, QIMR Immunology & Infectious Diseases seminar series


2017 – 2018: Senior Research Officer, Bone Marrow Transplantation Laboratory, QIMR

2008 – 2017: Research Officer, Bone Marrow Transplantation Laboratory, QIMR

2005 – 2008: Post-doctoral Research Scientist, Department of Haematology/Oncology, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, South Australia

2002 – 2005: Post-doctoral Research Scientist, Wound Healing and Injury Research Centre, University of Adelaide Department of Surgery, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, South Australia

2001 – 2002: Research Scientist, Vascular Surgery Research Laboratory, University of Adelaide Department of Surgery, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, South Australia

1999 – 2001: Research Scientist, Department of Orthopaedics and Trauma, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, South Australia






  • Cytokine responses within the gastrointestinal tract which dictate T cell fate and transplant outcome
  • Interplay between cytokines, microbiota and metabolites which regulate acute intestinal graft-versus-host disease
  • Mechanisms of MAIT cell function during homeostasis, acute graft-versus-host disease and infection
  • Determinants of increased susceptibility to respiratory syncytial virus infection after allogeneic stem cell transplantation


  • The Transplantation Society (TTS)
  • Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ)
  • The American Association of Immunologists (AAI)
  • Australasian Society for Immunology (ASI)
  • International Cytokine & Interferon Society (ICIS)
  • Society for Mucosal Immunology (SMI)


2014: Published the first clinical study which defined IL-6 as the main dysregulated cytokine secreted after allogeneic SCT and its inhibition as a potential new and simple strategy to prevent acute GVHD in the clinic.

Kennedy GA*, Varelias A* etal. Addition of IL-6 inhibition to standard GVHD prophylaxis after allogeneic stem cell transplantation: a phase I/II trial. Lancet Oncol. 15(13):1451-9.

2015: Published a study which demonstrated a central role for IL-6 in idiopathic pneumonia syndrome after allogeneic stem cell transplantation in both mice and humans (1), attracting a commentary in Blood (2).

  1. Varelias A etal. Lung parenchyma–derived IL-6 promotes IL-17A–dependent acute lung injury after allogeneic stem cell transplantation. Blood. 125(15):2435-44.
  2. Teshima T. The primacy of IL-6 in IPS? Blood. 125(15):2320-2.

2017: Published the first study to define the protective role of IL-17A in acute intestinal GVHD and demonstrate that the severity of acute GVHD was controlled by gut microbiota in an IL-17-dependent fashion, identifying several novel, uncharacterized species of the Muribaculaceae family.

Varelias A etal. Acute graft-versus-host disease is regulated by an IL-17-sensitive microbiome. Blood. 129(15):2172-2185.

2018: Published the first study to demonstrate recipient MAIT cells control intestinal barrier function and attenuate pathogenic T cell responses in the colon. Given the very high frequency of MAIT cells in humans, they are likely to represent an important regulatory population in clinical stem cell transplantation.

Varelias A* etal. Recipient Mucosal-Associated Invariant T Cells control GVHD within the colon. J Clin Invest. 128(5):1919-1936.

2019: Contributed to a seminal study which was the first to demonstrate intestinal microbiota modulated MHC class II expression on IECs in the ileum to initiate lethal GVHD, and that blockade of the IL-12/23p40 pathway may represent a readily translatable therapeutic strategy.

Koyama M etal. MHC class II antigen presentation by the intestinal epithelium initiates graft-versus-host disease and is influenced by the microbiota. Immunity. 51(5):885-898.

2019: Contributed to a landmark study which defined the mechanism for cytomegalovirus reactivation after transplantation and showed that transfer of strain-specific immune serum provided complete protection from viral reactivation. This attracted a commentary in Science and won an Australian Museum Eureka Prize in 2019.

Martins JP, Andoniou CE, Fleming P, Kuns RD, Schuster IS, Daly S, Varelias A, Tey SK, Degli-Esposti MA, Hill GR. Strain-specific antibody therapy prevents cytomegalovirus reactivation after transplantation. Science. 363(6424):288-293 (2019).

2020: Contributed to a study which demonstrated that continuous exposure to a disease-associated gut microbiome promoted hyper-acute graft-versus-host disease and highlighted the species-specific nature of this association.

Bowerman KL, Varelias A, etal. Continuous pre- and post- transplant exposure to a disease-associated gut microbiome promotes hyper-acute graft-versus-host disease in wildtype mice. Gut Microbes. 11(4):754-770.

2020: Contributed to a study which was the first to define alloreactive T cell fate at a single-cell transcriptomic level, in the gut, during acute GVHD. Engel JA etal. Single-cell transcriptomics of allo-reactive CD4+ T cells over time reveals divergent fates during gut GVHD. JCI Insight. 5(13):e137990.


  • American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (ASTCT)
  • Society for Mucosal Immunology (SMI)
  • American Association of Immunologists (AAI)
  • International Cytokine & Interferon Society (ICIS)
  • The Transplantation Society (TTS)
  • Australian Society for Immunology (ASI)
  • Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ)


2015: TSANZ International travel award, European Congress of Immunology, Vienna (oral presentation)

2015: Best Basic Science Poster, 24th RBWH Healthcare Symposium, Brisbane

2008, Best Scientific Poster (2nd place), QIMR 5th Scientific Conference, Brisbane

2005: Young Investigator of the Year, Child Health Research Institute, Adelaide

1995: Best Oral Presentation, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Scientific Conference, Adelaide

1990: Westpac Citizen of the Year, Westpac Bank, Adelaide


2002: PhD (Transplantation Immunology), Department of Medicine, University of Adelaide

1996: Bachelor of Health Science (Honours), Department of Medicine, University of Adelaide. Awarded First Class Honours.

1995: Bachelor of Applied Science (Med Lab Sc), School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, University of South Australia