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Monash alumnus appointed new Director of MISCL

May 23rd, 2008

Professor Richard Boyd (BSc(Hons) 1973, PhD 1977) has been appointed as the new Director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell laboratories, the latest event in his long relationship with the University.

"There's a lot of serendipity in science," says Professor Boyd.

The renowned immunologist first stepped onto Monash turf when he signed up for a Bachelor of Science in 1969. He graduated three years later with majors in Biochemistry and Genetics.

Soon after graduating, he showed up to an interview with a prospective Honours supervisor at the Alfred while dressed in board-shorts, thongs and long hair. Despite the young surfie's unconventional dress, Professor Richard Nairn, the Foundation Professor of Pathology (later 'Pathology and Immunology' and more recently 'Immunology') took him on as a student. He was one of the first three students in Australia to take Immunology as a B.Sc. subject.

"It was a lucky, career-changing break for me, especially fortuitous because I had otherwise been conscripted to go to Vietnam," says Professor Boyd.

Halfway through his PhD, he helped establish a third-year undergraduate teaching program in immunology. It proved so popular with science students that the young Boyd began lecturing in the subject before completing his doctorate. Its reputation now means that "an amazing number of top immunologists in Australia and around the world were originally Monash-trained or were direct collaborators".

Professor Boyd studies the thymus - the organ solely responsible for generating immune protection, but which severely atrophies with age. Among various projects, his team researches the possibility for its reactivation in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. They also use the anti-inflammatory properties of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) (which also have the remarkable capacity to make bone, fat, muscle and cartilage) and amnion stem cells, which make many other cells in the body, to promote tissue repair.

He feels strongly about one of MISCL's current projects  - the establishment of stem cell banks and a stem cell delivery system.

"We want to be in a position where we can deliver stem cells safely to the doctors, who can then deliver them to their patients, through a process which must continue to be highly regulated so that we only give patients stem cell therapies when appropriate, approved and safe," he says.

"The newborn baby has a wealth of stem cells which we should store as a potential body repair kit for the future - such as cord blood, cord MSC and amnion stem cells. Yet only about one percent of babies have such valuable cells reserved. We need to change this immediately to improve our healthcare in the future," he says.

The recipient of several prestigious awards, and Director of the Monash node of prestigious Australia-China Centre for Excellence in Stem Cell Research, together with the University of Peking,  Professor Boyd's career is almost inextricably linked to Monash.

"The only time I left Monash was when I was awarded a five-year post-doctoral fellowship at Innsbruck in Austria. This was an important part of my training; it 'internationalised' me... The reason I returned to Australia was probably due more to serendipity again than good management. I was awarded a Commemorative Fellowship, which brought me back to the energy of the immunology course. It's been a buzz ever since."

Professor Richard Boyd

Professor Richard Boyd