Professor Joseph Trapani received his medical degree in 1977 and his PhD in 1985, from The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital. He completed physician training (FRACP) in Rheumatology (1985) and received his PhD in the immunogenetics of HLA-associated disease, particularly B27-related arthropathy. Professor Trapani first became interested in how the immune system kills defends the body against viruses while working as a postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute, New York, where he worked in Bo Dupont’s lab. Here, Professor Trapani discovered and characterised a number of the genes and proteins used by killer lymphocytes to eliminate virus-infected cells. He found that one protein (perforin) forms pores in the target cell and provides access for other proteins (granzymes) to enter and trigger cell death by causing the DNA of the infected cell to fragment. With his colleagues, Professor Trapani has since devised novel ways of harnessing the power of these killer lymphocytes and adapted their use to adoptive immunotherapy for various cancers, and identified a rare group of children with inherited defects of perforin function and shown that they are abnormally susceptible to leukaemia.
In 2012, Professor Trapani received a $6.8m award from the Wellcome Trust (UK) to lead a consortium of Australian and New Zealand research teams, aiming to develop a new class of immune-suppressive drugs that protect transplanted bone marrow stem cells against immune destruction mediated by the pore-forming protein, perforin.
Professor Trapani is Executive Director Cancer Research at Peter Mac, Head of the Cancer Immunology Program and Head of the Cancer Cell Death Laboratory. Professor Trapani’s research interests include the immunopathology of viral and auto-immune diseases, apoptosis induction by cytotoxic lymphocytes and cancer immunotherapy; he has authored more than 230 research papers, reviews and book chapters on these topics. Professor Trapani is also a member of the Executive (Board) of Cancer Council Victoria and of many peer-review bodies in academia and industry.