Dr Zhian Chen

Senior Research Fellow

Frazer Institute
Faculty of Medicine

Overview

I am a Senior Research Fellow, NHMRC Emerging Leader Fellow, and Group Leader at UQ Frazer Institute. I was awarded my PhD in late 2017 by Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University. Under the UQ Health Research Accelerator (HERA) program, I lead a team to investigate T and B cell responses that profoundly regulate vaccine responses, viral clearance, and anti-tumour immunity.

My research program employs combinatorial methodologies of Biochemistry and Immunology to uncover new molecular mechanisms controlling T-cell-mediated immunity:

1. The action of T cells is required in antibody responses for suppressing viral infection or tumour growth and to confer protection upon vaccination. In particular, follicular helper T (Tfh) cells, a specialised subset of CD4+ T cells, essentially instruct the B cells to produce long-lived antibody protection. The knowledge of Tfh cells has fundamentally enabled vaccine development and therapy design for autoimmune diseases.

2. T-cell-derived cytokines play pivotal roles in both humoral and cellular immunity. Particularly, interleukin-21 (IL-21) is essential for supporting germinal centre (GC) reaction, where the B cell memory and long-lived antibody responses are generated. Besides, IL-21 is also the only known cytokine to maintain the functionalities of CD8+ T cells in the context of chronic infections or cancers by preventing a loss-of-function program termed 'exhaustion'.

This research program has generated multiple cutting-edge discoveries in the field, producing publications as 1st or joint 1st authors in top-tier journals including Nature Immunology, Science Immunology, and Nature Communications.

Research Impacts

Overall, I published 13x journal articles (6x 1st author or joint 1st author, 1x corresponding author) and 1x book chapter (1st author). The quality of my research in the field of T cell immunology was highlighted by three cutting-edge works published in Nature Immunology ( joint 1st author, 2021, selected as the ‘cover story’ of the September issue), Science Immunology (1st author, 2023, selected in 'Research Highlights' of the Feburary issues of all Science journals), and Nature Communications (joint 1st author, 2021). I also published a co-corresponding author article in Trends in Immunology (2021, selected as the ‘cover story’ of the April issue), reviewing the emerging field of T cell response homeostasis. I am an Ad hoc reviewer for scientific journals, including Frontiers in Immunology, International Immunopharmacology, Molecular Immunology, and Plos one.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Monash University

Publications

  • Chen, Zhian, Cui, Yanfang, Yao, Yin, Liu, Bo, Yunis, Joseph, Gao, Xin, Wang, Naiqi, Cañete, Pablo F., Tuong, Zewen Kelvin, Sun, Hongjian, Wang, Hao, Yang, Siling, Wang, Runli, Leong, Yew Ann, Simon Davis, David, Qin, Jiahuan, Liang, Kaili, Deng, Jun, Wang, Conan K., Huang, Yen-Hua, Roco, Jonathan A., Nettelfield, Sam, Zhu, Huaming, Xu, Huajun, Yu, Zhijia, Craik, David, Liu, Zheng, Qi, Hai, Parish, Christopher and Yu, Di (2023). Heparan sulfate regulates IL-21 bioavailability and signal strength that control germinal center B cell selection and differentiation. Science immunology, 8 (80) eadd1728, 1-17. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.add1728

  • Chen, Zhian, Wang, Naiqi, Yao, Yin and Yu, Di (2022). Context-dependent regulation of follicular helper T cell survival. Trends in Immunology, 43 (4), 309-321. doi: 10.1016/j.it.2022.02.002

  • Antczak, Magdalena, Cañete, Pablo F., Chen, Zhian, Belle, Clémence and Yu, Di (2022). Evolution of γ chain cytokines: mechanisms, methods and applications. Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal, 20, 4746-4755. doi: 10.1016/j.csbj.2022.08.050

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Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

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Available Projects

  • Please contact us if you are interested in PhD and Honours projects on:

    1. Deciphering new molecular mechanisms that regulate key cytokine signalling in immune cell differentiation and function;

    2. Understanding how cytokines contribute to the finely-regulated immune cell selection in vaccine response;

    3. Unraveling novel pathways sustaining T cell immunity in cancers and developing cytokine-based immunotherapeutics.

View all Available Projects

Publications

Book Chapter

Journal Article

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

Possible Research Projects

Note for students: The possible research projects listed on this page may not be comprehensive or up to date. Always feel free to contact the staff for more information, and also with your own research ideas.

  • Please contact us if you are interested in PhD and Honours projects on:

    1. Deciphering new molecular mechanisms that regulate key cytokine signalling in immune cell differentiation and function;

    2. Understanding how cytokines contribute to the finely-regulated immune cell selection in vaccine response;

    3. Unraveling novel pathways sustaining T cell immunity in cancers and developing cytokine-based immunotherapeutics.